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Bumping Heads Can Make Kids Loners

Update Date: Apr 10, 2014 05:31 PM EDT

Head injuries can hurt the ability to make social relationships, according to a new study.

New research conducted at Brigham Young University reveals that a bump on the head can make children loners.

Neuroscientists followed a group of children three years after each had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Researchers noted that the head injuries were most commonly caused by car accidents.

The latest study revealed that lingering injury in a specific part of the brain actually predicted the number of friends a child has.

"The thing that's hardest about brain injury is that someone can have significant difficulties but they still look okay," researcher Shawn Gale, a neuropsychologist at BYU said in a news release. "But they have a harder time remembering things and focusing on things as well and that affects the way they interact with other people. Since they look fine, people don't cut them as much slack as they ought to."

Gale and her team compared the children's social lives and thinking skills with the thickness of their frontal lobe. Researchers used MRI scans to determine brain measurements and interviewed parents to determine the health of children's social interactions.

Researchers said the latest findings provide insight into how these children can be treated. They explain that physical injury and social withdrawal are connected through "cognitive proficiency," which is the combination of short-term memory and the brain's processing speed.

"In social interactions we need to process the content of what a person is saying in addition to simultaneously processing nonverbal cues," co-author Ashley Levan said in a statement. "We then have to hold that information in our working memory to be able to respond appropriately. If you disrupt working memory or processing speed it can result in difficulty with social interactions."

"This is a preliminary study but we want to go into more of the details about why working memory and processing speed are associated with social functioning and how specific brain structures might be related to improve outcome," Gale concluded.

The findings were published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

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