Effects of penetrating traumatic brain injury on event segmentation and memory

Jeffrey M. Zacks*, Christopher A. Kurby, Claudia S. Landazabal, Frank Krueger, Jordan Grafman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Penetrating traumatic brain injury (pTBI) is associated with deficits in cognitive tasks including comprehension and memory, and also with impairments in tasks of daily living. In naturalistic settings, one important component of cognitive task performance is event segmentation, the ability to parse the ongoing stream of behavior into meaningful units. Event segmentation ability is associated with memory performance and with action control, but is not well assessed by standard neuropsychological assessments or laboratory tasks. Here, we measured event segmentation and memory in a sample of 123 male military veterans aged 59-81 who had suffered a traumatic brain injury as young men, and 34 demographically similar controls. Participants watched movies of everyday activities and segmented them to identify fine-grained or coarse-grained events, and then completed tests of recognition memory for pictures from the movies and of memory for the temporal order of actions in the movies. Lesion location and volume were assessed with computed tomography (CT) imaging. Patients with traumatic brain injury were impaired on event segmentation. Those with larger lesions had larger impairments for fine segmentation and also impairments for both memory measures. Further, the degree of memory impairment was statistically mediated by the degree of event segmentation impairment. There was some evidence that lesions to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) selectively impaired coarse segmentation; however, lesions outside of a priori regions of interest also were associated with impaired segmentation. One possibility is that the effect of vmPFC damage reflects the role of prefrontal event knowledge representations in ongoing comprehension. These results suggest that assessment of naturalistic event comprehension can be a valuable component of cognitive assessment in cases of traumatic brain injury, and that interventions aimed at event segmentation could be clinically helpful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-246
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Event perception
  • Memory
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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