by Annemarie C. Visser-Keizer, Herma J. Westerhof-Evers, Marleen J. J. Gerritsen, Joukje van der Naalt, Jacoba M. Spikman
Fear is an important emotional reaction that guides decision making in situations of ambiguity or uncertainty. Both recognition of facial expressions of fear and decision making ability can be impaired after traumatic brain injury (TBI), in particular when the frontal lobe is damaged. So far, it has not been investigated how recognition of fear influences risk behavior in healthy subjects and TBI patients. The ability to recognize fear is thought to be related to the ability to experience fear and to use it as a warning signal to guide decision making. We hypothesized that a better ability to recognize fear would be related to a better regulation of risk behavior, with healthy controls outperforming TBI patients. To investigate this, 59 healthy subjects and 49 TBI patients were assessed with a test for emotion recognition (Facial Expression of Emotion: Stimuli and Tests) and a gambling task (Iowa Gambling Task (IGT)). The results showed that, regardless of post traumatic amnesia duration or the presence of frontal lesions, patients were more impaired than healthy controls on both fear recognition and decision making. In both groups, a significant relationship was found between better fear recognition, the development of an advantageous strategy across the IGT and less risk behavior in the last blocks of the IGT. Educational level moderated this relationship in the final block of the IGT. This study has important clinical implications, indicating that impaired decision making and risk behavior after TBI can be preceded by deficits in the processing of fear.