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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2013 Mar;19(3):231-46. doi: 10.1017/S1355617712001506. Epub 2013 Jan 25.

Impairments in social cognition following severe traumatic brain injury.

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) leads to physical, neuropsychological, and emotional deficits that interfere with the individual’s capacity to return to his or her former lifestyle. This review focuses on social cognition, that is, the capacity to attend to, recognize and interpret interpersonal cues that guide social behavior. Social cognition entails ‘‘hot’’ processes, that is, emotion perception and emotional empathy and ‘‘cold’’ processes, that is, the ability to infer the beliefs, feelings, and intentions of others (theory of mind: ToM) to see their point of view (cognitive empathy) and what they mean when communicating (pragmatic inference). This review critically examines research attesting to deficits in each of these domains and also examines evidence for theorized mechanisms including specific neural networks, the role of simulation, and non-social cognition. Current research is hampered by small, heterogeneous samples and the inherent complexity of TBI pathology. Nevertheless, there is evidence that facets of social cognition are impaired in this population. New assessment tools to measure social cognition following TBI are required that predict everyday social functioning. In addition, research into remediation needs to be guided by the growing empirical base for understanding social cognition that may yet reveal how deficits dissociate following TBI.

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