The role of causal attributions in public misconceptions about brain injury

Rehabil Psychol. 2011 May;56(2):85-93. doi: 10.1037/a0023354.


Objective: Social psychological theories such as attribution theory have been applied to conditions such as depression and physical disability, but not to traumatic brain injury (TBI). The goal of this paper is to show that that attribution theory and related concepts help to explain the public's misconceptions about TBI and other challenges faced by clinicians and families of persons with TBI.

Results: Research shows that misconceptions about brain injury occur because people misattribute the actions of persons with brain injury. These misattributions reflect two features: (a) the absence of visible markers of the injury, and (b) the tendency to compare persons with TBI with their peers rather than their own preinjury performance. These two processes lead to the opposite pattern to the stigma that occurs with visible disabilities: specifically, a failure among members of the public to recognize that problematic behaviors may result from the injury. This analysis suggests several therapeutic strategies for managing public misconceptions in ways that enhance coping and recovery.

Conclusion: Clarifying the attribution processes that underpin misconceptions about brain injury provides a framework for enhancing rehabilitation and addressing these misconceptions effectively.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Frontal Lobe / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Judgment*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Social Stigma*