Original research| Volume 100, ISSUE 3, P458-463, March 2019

Empathic Responses to Affective Film Clips Following Brain Injury and the Association With Emotion Recognition Accuracy

  • Dawn Neumann
    Corresponding author Dawn Neumann, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, 4141 Shore Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46254.
    Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, Indianapolis, IN
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  • Barbra Zupan
    School of Health, Medical, and Applied Sciences, Department of Exercise and Health Sciences, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, QLD, Australia
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Published:August 22, 2018DOI:



      To compare empathic responses to affective film clips in participants with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and controls, and examine associations with affect recognition.


      Cross sectional study using a quasi-experimental design.


      Multi-site study conducted at a postacute rehabilitation facility in the United States and a university in Canada.


      Adults (N=120) with moderate to severe TBI (n=60) and those without TBI (n=60), frequency matched for age and sex. Average time postinjury was 14 years (range: .5-37).

      Main Outcome Measures

      Participants were shown affective film clips and asked to report how the main character in the clip felt and how they personally felt in response to the clip. Empathic responses were operationalized as participants feeling the same emotion they identified the character to be feeling.


      Participants with TBI had lower emotion recognition scores (P=.007) and fewer empathic responses than controls (67% vs 79%; P<.001). Participants with TBI accurately identified and empathically responded to characters’ emotions less frequently (65%) than controls (78%). Participants with TBI had poorer recognition scores and fewer empathic responses to sad and fearful clips compared to controls. Affect recognition was associated with empathic responses in both groups (P<.001). When participants with TBI accurately recognized characters’ emotions, they had an empathic response 71% of the time, which was more than double their empathic responses for incorrectly identified emotions.


      Participants with TBI were less likely to recognize and respond empathically to others’ expressions of sadness and fear, which has implications for interpersonal interactions and relationships. This is the first study in the TBI population to demonstrate a direct association between an affect stimulus and an empathic response.


      List of abbreviations:

      TBI (traumatic brain injury)
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