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Head injuries can cause personality changes

Amy Schumer's character in the movie I Feel Pretty experienced an uncharacteristic surge of confidence after injuring her head exercising. While this is the stuff of great comedy, similar consequences -- while rare -- have been known to occur.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are serious complications of some auto accidents. TBI patients may recover to some extent, or completely, over time. But for some unlucky victims, the personality changes that come with TBIs are disconcerting at best.

The science behind it

A few years ago, researchers at Dartmouth University studied the neurological roots of people's confidence and insecurities in the network of the brain known as the frontostriatal pathway. At one end of the path is self-knowledge in the prefrontal cortex. At the other is the reward system for the brain, the ventral striatum.

When there is much activity along the pathway, people feel and act more confidently. Scientists found that these individuals' self-perceptions were closely linked to the dopamine system that provides pleasure. Sturdy connections equaled a robust sense of self-esteem but frequently-firing neurons meant that the person's confidence was rather shaky.

As such, any alterations in the brain's activity or structure can affect a TBI patient's personality and/or mental health.

Anywhere from 40 to more than 80 percent of TBI patients experience such changes, with most being negative. Convicted murderer and former NFL player Aaron Hernandez likely underwent these kinds of changes due to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) he suffered in the game (and which ultimately cost him his life),

Some changes are for the better

Last year, researchers at the University of Iowa examined almost 100 brain-damaged patients. Their loved ones noted that some of them had indeed had improvements in their personalities after they suffered their injuries.

Even so, few TBI patients would want to endure such trauma in order to be more upbeat or confident. If you suffered a brain injury in an auto accident, you might want to pursue a claim for damages against the at-fault driver(s).

Source: Daily Mail, "How a head injury could make you see yourself differently like Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty," Natalie Rahhal, April 24, 2018

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