A Child’s Social Life Can Be Affected by Head Injuries

head injuriesAccording to new research, children who suffer from head injuries are at risk of also suffering from a lacking social life.[1] Neuroscientists at Brigham Young University (BYU) conducted a study where they examined a group of children three years after each had suffered a traumatic brain injury, most commonly due to automobile accidents.1 The researchers found that there was a lingering injury within a specific region of the brain that predicted the health outcome of the children’s social lives.1

“The thing that’s hardest about brain injury is that someone can have significant difficulties but they still look okay, ” said Shawn Gale, PhD, a neuropsychologist at BYU. “But they have a harder time remembering things and focusing on things and that affects the way they interact with other people. Since they look fine, people don’t cut them as much slack as they ought to.”1

For the study, Gale and PhD student Ashley Levan looked to compare the children’s social lives and thinking skills with the thickness of the brain’s outer layer in the frontal lobe.1 They took the brain measurements with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and gathered social information from parents, whom they interviewed regarding a variety of subjects, such as their children’s participation in groups, number of friends, and the amount of time spent with friends.1

As a result, the BYU researchers found that physical brain injury and social withdrawal are connected through “cognitive proficiency,” or the combination of short-term memory and the brain’s processing speed.1

“In social interactions we need to process the content of what a person is saying in addiction to simultaneously processing nonverbal cues,” said Levan. “We then have to hold that information in our working memory to be able to respond appropriately. If you disrupt working memory or processing speed, it can result in difficulty with social interactions.”1

There have also been separate studies done regarding children with ADHD, a disorder that also affects the frontal lobes, and how therapy can improve working memory.1 The researchers hope that this study can help to focus future studies on whether improvements in working memory could potentially treat the social difficulties that are brought on by head injuries.1

“This is a preliminary study, but we want to go into more of the details about why working memory and processing speed are associated with social functioning and how specific brain structures might be related to improve outcome,” said Gale.1

[1] Wood, J. (2014). Head Injuries Can Affect Children’s Social Lives. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 14, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/04/12/head-injuries-can-affect-childrens-social-lives/68419.html

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