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You Did That on Purpose! – Misinterpretations and Anger after Brain Injury

You Did That on Purpose! 

Misinterpretations and Anger after Brain Injury


By Dawn Neumann, Ph.D., FACRM


Imagine that you are waiting in line at the store and someone cuts in front of you. 

A) Do you think the person cut in front of you on purpose or was trying to be mean?

B) Or do you think maybe he or she did not see you and it was an innocent mistake or there was some kind of emergency?

How you interpret this situation will affect how angry you will feel and how you will react to the situation. If you chose option A, it is likely you will be more irritated and angry than if you chose option B.

Irritability & anger are common after TBI.

Irritability and anger are common side effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). How we interpret others’ actions can lead us to feel irritated and angry toward those involved. Recent research suggests that one reason irritation and anger are more severe and common after TBI may be due to misinterpreting others’ harmless actions.


It is not always so obvious why people behave the way they do. So, it is normal to try to figure out the reasons behind others’ actions: What do they really want? Why did they do what they did?  If we think someone did something to us on purpose, of course, we are going to get mad, and possibly even react.  But for the most part, people without a brain injury

Everyday problems can seem big.

usually give others’ the benefit of the doubt and assume that others’ actions are not intentionally mean.  For example, many people will assume the person who cut in front of you on line did not see you and it was an innocent mistake. As a result, it does not irritate or anger them that much.  In contrast, it appears that more people with a brain injury assume others’ actions are intentionally mean.  More people with a brain injury are likely to choose option A and feel more irritated or angrier.


What is the potential impact of this type of thinking?


Why are People with a Brain Injury More Likely to Think this Way?

First, it is important to note that not everyone with a brain injury thinks this way. People with higher level thinking difficulties, problems interpreting social cues, and those with anxiety are more prone than others to assume others’ actions are intentional or mean. Because these are common problems after brain injury, it makes them more likely to misinterpret others’ behaviors.


Some advice:


Dawn Neumann, Ph.D., FACRM
Associate Professor and Research Director PM&R, Indiana University School of Medicine and Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana Director, IU InterFACE Center at RHI (A Human Observation Lab)