Social Cognition: What Is It, and How Does It Impact Persons with TBI?

By Helen Genova, PhD, Assistant Director, Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, Kessler Foundation

Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) often face a wide range of challenges, including the ability to connect with others. For many, making or maintaining social connections can be a struggle. They may find it more difficult to engage in conversation or find themselves getting into arguments more frequently. These symptoms are not uncommon and may be due to impairments in social cognition.  

Social cognition refers to the skills we use whenever we interact with others. These skills help us understand another person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings and helps us to communicate with them.  

For example, think about meeting a friend for coffee. As you walk into the coffee shop, you see your friend smiling and standing up to hug you. How would you respond? Would you smile back? What if you walked in and saw your friend reading a text and crying? Would you still smile? Or would you ask them what is wrong? Making decisions about how you respond to the needs and feelings of others requires social cognition. Without these skills, you may find it difficult or uncomfortable to be in social situations.

Similarly, employment may also pose challenges for persons with social cognition issues. It may be difficult to interact or work with others on the job. Even the process of getting a job may present some hurdles as interviews and meetings require strong social cognition skills.  

At Kessler Foundation, our clinicians and research scientists study the impact of social cognition deficits on individuals with TBI, as well as methods to improve social cognition. For example, we are currently conducting a study that helps individuals with TBI practice the social cognition skills they need for obtaining and maintaining a job. Using virtual reality, we are examining how practicing social skills in a virtual environment may help individuals with TBI improve the social cognition skills required on the job. 

While social cognition challenges may make life more complicated, we anticipate that the interventions being developed at Kessler Foundation will prove to be effective in helping those with TBI live more comfortable, confident, and fulfilling lives.

For more information about participating in Dr. Genova’s social cognition research, please contact her at