Attributions and expectations for the behavior of persons with brain injury: the effect of visibility of injury

J Head Trauma Rehabil. Sep-Oct 2011;26(5):392-6. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0b013e3181f8fd34.


Objective: To determine whether visible markers of brain injury shape people's causal attributions for the behaviors of the person with the injury and their expectations that those behaviors will persist for 5 years.

Design: Experimental scenarios described an adolescent boy with a brain injury (pictured either with or without a head scar) who showed 4 behavior changes relating to sleep, anger, self-confidence, and motivation.

Setting: Victoria University of Wellington.

Participants: University student volunteers (N = 249).

Measures: For each behavior, ratings of attributions to either the brain injury or to adolescence and estimates that the behaviors would persist for 5 years.

Results: Attributions to brain injury correlated with expectations that the behaviors would persist. Participants attributed the behaviors more to the brain injury than to adolescence in the scar condition but not in the no-scar condition.

Conclusions: Visible markers of brain injury such as scars are spurious markers of severity that shape attributions for actions of persons with the injury and expectations that problematic behaviors will persist. The results inform strategies for correcting misunderstandings about brain injury and enhancing rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavior
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Cicatrix / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male