Background: The hidden nature of brain injury means that it is often difficult for people to understand the sometimes challenging behaviors that individuals exhibit. The misattribution of these behaviors may lead to a lack of consideration and public censure if the individual is seen as simply misbehaving.
Objective: The aim of this study was to explore the impact of visual cues indicating the presence or absence of brain injury on prejudice, desire for social interaction, and causal attributions of nursing and computing science students.
Method: An independent-groups design was employed in this research, which recruited 190 first-year nursing students and 194 first-year computing science students from a major university in Belfast, UK. A short passage describing an adolescent's behavior after a brain injury, together with one of three images portraying a young adolescent with a scar, a head dressing, or neither of these, was given to participants. They were then asked to answer questions relating to prejudice, social interaction, locus of control, and causal attributions. The attributional statements suggested that the character's behavior could be the result of brain injury or adolescence.
Results: Analysis of variance demonstrated a statistically significant difference between the student groups, where nursing students (M = 45.17, SD = 4.69) desired more social interaction with the fictional adolescent than their computer science peers (M = 38.64, SD = 7.69). Further, analysis of variance showed a main effect of image on the attributional statement that described adolescence as a suitable explanation for the character's lack of self-confidence.
Discussion: Attributions of brain injury were influenced by the presence of a visible but potentially specious indicator of injury. This suggests that survivors of brain injury who do not display any outward indicator may receive less care and face expectations to behave in a manner consistent with the norms of society. If their injury does not allow them to meet with these expectations, they may face public censure and discrimination.