Socioecological influences on concussion reporting by NCAA Division 1 athletes in high-risk sports

PLoS One. 2019 May 8;14(5):e0215424. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215424. eCollection 2019.


Concussion among athletes is an issue of growing concern, with efforts underway to improve detection, diagnosis, and treatment. Success depends on communication by athletes, as brain-related symptoms are often not outwardly visible. Education programs to increase reporting behavior have not been successful to date. In accordance with the socioecological approach to health, we argue that multiple levels of influence on student athletes must be addressed, and report a multi-dimensional, mixed-methods research project conducted to identify possible points of intervention into changing the culture of concussion-injury reporting among collegiate athletes. Using quantitative, qualitative and interpretive methods, we examine the individual-level vested interests athletes have in reporting or not reporting concussion symptoms, and how these interests interact with community-level team culture and interpersonal relationships, and social-level cultural narratives to influence concussion-reporting behavior. Our findings confirm the viability of this approach, identifying immediacy, separation of responsibility and pain-enduring story systems as particularly salient elements. We conclude that competing performance versus safety value structures, reflected in cultural narratives and team culture, create mixed-messages for athletes, which are resolved in favor of performance because athletes perceive concussion injuries to be of low immediacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology*
  • Brain Concussion / diagnosis
  • Brain Concussion / psychology*
  • Disclosure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Organizational Culture
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk
  • Social Environment*
  • Sports
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This project is supported by the National Collegiate Athletic Assocation's Mind Matters Research Challenge The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.