Feedback learning is essential for behavioral development. We investigated feedback learning in relation to behavior problems after pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Children aged 6–13 years diagnosed with TBI (n = 112; 1.7 years post-injury) were compared with children with traumatic control (TC) injury (n = 52). TBI severity was defined as mild TBI without risk factors for complicated TBI (mildRF− TBI, n = 24), mild TBI with ⩾1 risk factor for complicated TBI (mildRF+ TBI, n = 51) and moderate/severe TBI (n = 37). The Probabilistic Learning Test was used to measure feedback learning, assessing the effects of inconsistent feedback on learning and generalization of learning from the learning context to novel contexts. The relation between feedback learning and behavioral functioning rated by parents and teachers was explored.
No evidence was found for an effect of TBI on learning from inconsistent feedback, while the moderate/severe TBI group showed impaired generalization of learning from the learning context to novel contexts (p = 0.03, d = −0.51). Furthermore, the mildRF+ TBI and moderate/severe TBI groups had higher parent and teacher ratings of internalizing problems (p's ⩽ 0.04, d's ⩾ 0.47) than the TC group, while the moderate/severe TBI group also had higher parent ratings of externalizing problems (p = 0.006, d = 0.58). Importantly, poorer generalization of learning predicted higher parent ratings of externalizing problems in children with TBI (p = 0.03, β = −0.21) and had diagnostic utility for the identification of children with TBI and clinically significant externalizing behavior problems (area under the curve = 0.77, p = 0.001).
Moderate/severe pediatric TBI has a negative impact on generalization of learning, which may contribute to post-injury externalizing problems.