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Effects of Media Sensationalization on Cognitive Performance and Post Concussive Symptoms

  • Cara A. Bussell (a1) and Brandon E. Gavett (a1)


Objectives: The current study aimed to examine if televised media about mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) framed in a sensationalized manner had a negative impact on cognitive functioning and persistent mTBI symptoms. Methods: One hundred two participants (MAge=37.16; SD=22.61) with a history of post-acute mTBI, recruited through a community research registry and an undergraduate recruitment system, were included in this study. Participants were assessed with a measure of health literacy, the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA), and randomized to watch either a sensationalized or non-sensationalized news clip focused on mTBI. They were then assessed with the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), Rivermead Post Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire (RPQ), Patient Reported Outcome Measures Information System (PROMIS) Depression scale, and the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (PCL-5). Results: Bayesian analyses indicated that sensationalized media—alone (βPASAT=−0.08; βRPQ=−0.08) or in the context of covariates (βPASAT=−0.11; βRPQ=−0.14)—was not a strong predictor of PASAT score or post-concussion syndrome symptom severity. Conclusions: Although media sensationalization of mTBI symptoms is not desirable, this study suggests that one brief exposure to sensationalized information may not have a meaningful immediate impact on the cognitive functioning or symptom reporting of individuals with a history of mTBI. Future research should examine long-term and downstream effects of sensationalized media reporting in samples with greater diversity of TBI history. (JINS, 2019, 25, 90–100)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Brandon E. Gavett. School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Perth, WA 6009, Australia. Email:


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Effects of Media Sensationalization on Cognitive Performance and Post Concussive Symptoms

  • Cara A. Bussell (a1) and Brandon E. Gavett (a1)


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