Diagnosis Threat and Injury Beliefs After Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

After experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI), patients may experience cognitive deficits, emotional and physical difficulties, and behavioral problems. Typically, these symptoms resolve by three months post-injury. In some cases, however, patients may experience persistent symptoms even after this time period, a phenomenon known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS). In some instances, PCS is affected by psychosocial expectations of post-TBI behavior (known as “diagnosis threat”); in other words, negative stereotypes about TBI patients’ social performance may in turn negatively affect these patients’ recovery.

To investigate the relationship between diagnosis threat and PCS, researchers evaluated seventy-six athletes with a history of mild TBI (mTBI). Participants were randomly assigned to one of two instructional groups. In the “diagnosis threat” group, participants’ mTBI history was emphasized as they filled out cognitive questionnaires, while in the control group, mTBI history was not mentioned at all. Researchers analyzed the relationship between cognitive performance in the diagnosis threat group versus the control group, and they found that:
  • There were no significant group differences in neurological or cognitive performance between the control group and the group with imposed diagnosis threat.
  • The majority of participants did not hold negative beliefs or concerns toward post-injury cognitive performance.
  • Participants’ suggestibility (or openness to the suggestions of others) did have a significant effect on the WAIS III measure, an IQ test.
Counter to previous research, the results of this study suggest that diagnosis threat does not have an objective effect on cognitive performance after mTBI. While these findings may be specific to the athletic population, further research on the relationship between diagnosis threat and cognitive performance may provide further clarification.

Source: Carter-Allison SN, Potter S, & Rimes K. Diagnosis threat and injury beliefs after mild traumatic brain injury. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. (August 2016).

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