Investigating the role of age and affect on social cognition following traumatic brain injury

Telford, Carolyn

Clinical psychology
June 2012

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© 2012 Carolyn Telford. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Moral reasoning and emotion have consistently been linked in the literature; interactions between the two concepts are well-researched. Offenders have been studied in relation to moral reasoning as a population who have committed morally- or socially-deviant acts. The current review sought to understand how emotion and moral reasoning related to one another in this population; it also sought to understand whether this was linked to offending behaviours. A systematic search of four databases was conducted, resulting in seven papers which were reviewed in depth. Data were extracted from these, and studies were assessed for their quality. Empathy was a key area in the results, with mixed findings. Two studies found that poorer emotional empathy related to poor aspects of moral reasoning; two studies found no relationship. Impairments in emotional empathy, in psychopaths, only had an impact at a high threshold of impairment. Cognitive empathy and moral reasoning correlated in a positive linear relationship. Participants’ own emotions also impacted upon their moral judgement; this was moderated by multiple factors. Offending was related to moral reasoning in adolescence, but not adulthood. Thus, in conclusion, emotion and moral reasoning had a complex relationship, with age moderating the relationship with delinquency. Future directions for research include more detailed exploration of these concepts, such as by examining empathy or psychopathy.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have a wide range of consequences; previous studies have found a relationship between younger age at TBI and more severe cognitive consequences. Moral reasoning can be impaired by TBI; it also has a key transition between ‘immature’ and ‘mature’ reasoning in early adolescence. The current study aimed to investigate differences in adults’ moral reasoning, depending upon whether a brain injury was sustained in middle-childhood (prior to development of mature moral reasoning) or adulthood. It was hypothesised that moral reasoning would differ between adult participants, according to age at TBI, moderated by affect during testing and intellectual functioning. Fourteen adult participants were recruited into two groups; childhood-TBI (n=5; aged 5-10 at injury) and adulthood-TBI (n=9; aged 25-53 at injury). One battery of tests was administered, including measures of moral reasoning, affect during testing and current intellectual functioning. Results were unreliable due to the small sample size; firm conclusions could not be drawn. However, preliminary results demonstrated group differences in moral reasoning; the childhood-TBI group demonstrated significantly less-mature moral reasoning. This was moderated by negative affect during testing and intellectual functioning, and negated when accounting for both variables. It was tentatively concluded that whilst further research was needed, age at injury may impact upon moral reasoning, moderated by impairments to intellectual functioning and negative affect. Implications of findings and areas for future research were discussed.

Department of Clinical Psychology & Psychological Therapies, The University of Hull
Rogish, Miles
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