UK researchers examine personality and social behavior changes in patients following stroke

July 26, 1999

LEXINGTON, KY - University of Kentucky researchers have found that depending on which side of the brain sustains damage during a stroke, affects the patient's personality and social competency and may influence others' impressions of them.

Studies conducted by University of Kentucky College of Medicine researchers Shelby Langer, Ph.D., L. Creed Pettigrew, M.D., M.P.H., John Wilson, Ph.D., and Lee X. Blonder, Ph.D., examined others' initial impressions of stroke patients - as a function of brain damage location.

When individuals sustain damage to the left cerebral hemisphere, they typically develop aphasia - the loss or impairment of language. When they suffer damage to the right cerebral hemisphere, they typically exhibit nonverbal communicative deficits often characterized as a "flattened affect" or a lack of facial expressions and a monotone voice.

In the study, stroke patients with left hemisphere damage, stroke patients with right hemisphere damage and control patients suffering from orthopedic disease participated in a semi-structured interview in their home. Each patient's spouse also participated in the discussion. All interactions were videotaped.

Two graduate student observers watched portions of the videotapes and made judgments about the personality and social competency of the patients. Both sets of stroke patients were perceived more negatively -- less outgoing, less sociable and warm in personality -- as compared to the orthopedic patients.

In addition, researchers found that patients who suffered from left hemisphere damage and had more speech problems, were seen as less socially competent than either patients with right hemisphere damaged or the control group.

"While there are individual differences in communicative competence among all people, brain damage in general and in stroke patients, in particular, can cause changes in an individual's ability to send and receive verbal and nonverbal messages," Blonder said.

One implication of the findings pertains to the importance of verbal and nonverbal skills for appropriate and successful communication. Individuals with language problems were seen as lacking in social skills, thus putting them at a greater social risk.

"Unfortunately, others may make erroneous assumptions about patients with impaired verbal or nonverbal behaviors such as attributing a lack of facial expression to negative personality traits, when in fact it is simply a result of the stroke," Blonder said.

Researchers suggest that spouses or significant others be made aware of a patient's specific verbal or nonverbal deficits and consider the potential communication and social problems for both the patient and his or her caregiver.

"By educating others on these potential negative effects as a consequence of stroke, we can help ease communication problems between patients and those who interact with them," Langer said.
-end-
The research was supported by an NIH/NINDS First Award to Blonder and a National Institute of Mental Health Training Grant that funded Langer.

University of Kentucky Medical Center

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