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Brain-injured patients can relearn emotions
Date:2/10/2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The visitor in Barry Willer's office at the University at Buffalo was frustrated and deeply depressed. The man's wife had sustained a relatively mild traumatic brain injury, and he was doing all he could to support her. But despite his best efforts, the man's wife described him to friends as being "indifferent." He was at his wits end.

Willer, UB professor of psychiatry and a specialist in traumatic brain injury (TBI), listened to this scenario with great interest. He was pilot testing a computer-based diagnostic and treatment program he and a graduate student had developed for brain-injured adults to help them regain their emotional lives.

Willer had the man's wife take the test, which requires participants to view photos of faces expressing a variety of emotions and then name each emotion.

Persons with no brain injury easily can distinguish frightened from annoyed, or disappointed from gleeful. But when a sad, or angry, or surprised face appeared on the screen, the man's wife saw only "indifferent."

It was eye-opening for the man and his wife and a rewarding moment for Willer. "His wife didn't know she wasn't recognizing his emotions," Willer recounts, "and he had no idea what was going on."

Interpreting and expressing emotion are defining characteristics of being human. The psychiatric rehabilitation community confirmed in recent years that as many as 50 percent of TBI patients had lost this ability. In the past, people with TBI who reacted inappropriately, such as joking at a funeral, or didn't react at all, were considered to have behavior problems. This capacity to understand and respond to emotions now is known as affect recognition.

Based on his promising pilot-study results, Willer has received a $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDDR) to carry out a three-year controlled trial of his affect recognition t
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Contact: Lois Baker
ljbaker@buffalo.edu
7-166-455-000-1417
University at Buffalo
Source:Eurekalert

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