Changes in emotional empathy, affective responsivity, and behavior following severe traumatic brain injury

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2012;34(6):606-23. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2012.667067. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


This study was designed to examine the relationship between deficits in empathy, emotional responsivity, and social behavior in adults with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). A total of 21 patients with severe TBI and 25 control participants viewed six film clips containing pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral content whilst facial muscle responses, skin conductance, and valence and arousal ratings were measured. Emotional empathy (the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale, BEES: self-report) and changes in drive and control in social situations (The Current Behaviour Scale, CBS: relative report) were also assessed. In comparison to control participants, those in the TBI group reported less ability to empathize emotionally and had reduced facial responding to both pleasant and unpleasant films. They also exhibited lowered autonomic arousal, as well as abnormal ratings of valence and arousal, particularly to unpleasant films. Relative reported loss of emotional control was significantly associated with heightened empathy, while there was a trend to suggest that impaired drive (or motivation) may be related to lower levels of emotional empathy. The results represent the first to suggest that level of emotional empathy post traumatic brain injury may be associated with behavioral manifestations of disorders of drive and control.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Drive
  • Electromyography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires