Attributions for Brain Injured Persons' Actions: Effects of Cause of Injury and Familiarity
Misunderstanding the behaviours of individuals with brain injuries is common and may result in negative consequences, especially when visible markers of brain injury are absent. Previous research on this issue manipulated the visibility of a brain injury with photographs of an adolescent with either a head scar or no scar (McClure, Buchanan, McDowall, & Wade, 2008). Scenarios stated that the adolescent had suffered a brain injury, followed by undesirable changes in four behaviours. Participants attributed the behaviors more to adolescence relative to brain injury when there was no scar than when there was a scar. The current research extends this research by examining the effects of visible markers of injury combined with three other factors: whether people are informed about the injury, the stated cause of injury, and familiarity with individuals with brain injury. Experiment 1 (N = 98) examined the effects of informing people about brain injury and found that when participants were not informed about the brain injury, visible markers of injury had no effect on attributions; participants made higher attributions to adolescence than brain injury in both scar conditions. In contrast, when participants were informed about the injury, in the no scar condition, attributions were higher for adolescence than brain injury whereas in the scar condition, both causes were rated equally. Experiment 2 (N = 148) examined the effects of putative causes of the injury and the participants' familiarity with the brain injury. The results found that visible markers of injury had no effect on attributions when the described cause was a brain tumour, but when the described cause was abusing illegal drugs, participants made higher attributions to brain injury than adolescence in the scar condition, with the reverse found in the no scar condition. In the scar condition, participants with high familiarity attributed the behaviours more to the brain injury than participants with low familiarity and participants with low familiarity attributed the behaviours more to adolescence than participants with high familiarity. In the no scar condition, participants in both familiarity groups attributed the behaviours equally to adolescence and brain injury. This research shows that the visibility of a brain injury, the etiology of an injury and familiarity with individuals with brain injury influence people's attributions for an adolescent's undesirable behavior. This information can be used by professionals and caregivers to inform survivors about these effects and used in campaigns to educate the public.