The female advantage: sex as a possible protective factor against emotion recognition impairment following traumatic brain injury

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2016 Oct;16(5):866-75. doi: 10.3758/s13415-016-0437-0.


Although moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) leads to facial affect recognition impairments in up to 39% of individuals, protective and risk factors for these deficits are unknown. The aim of the current study was to examine the effect of sex on emotion recognition abilities following TBI. We administered two separate emotion recognition tests (one static and one dynamic) to 53 individuals with moderate to severe TBI (females = 28) and 49 demographically matched comparisons (females = 22). We then investigated the presence of a sex-by-group interaction in emotion recognition accuracy. In the comparison group, there were no sex differences. In the TBI group, however, females significantly outperformed males in the dynamic (but not the static) task. Moreover, males (but not females) with TBI performed significantly worse than comparison participants in the dynamic task. Further analysis revealed that sex differences in emotion recognition abilities within the TBI group could not be explained by lesion location, TBI severity, or other neuropsychological variables. These findings suggest that sex may serve as a protective factor for social impairment following TBI and inform clinicians working with TBI as well as research on the neurophysiological correlates of sex differences in social functioning.

Keywords: Emotion recognition; Facial affect recognition; Sex difference; Traumatic brain injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Protective Factors
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Sex Reassignment Procedures*