A Deer in the Headlights

Around three o’clock in the morning, I was sleeping in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car after a long day of driving. We were on the home-stretch through the forest preserve only a half of a mile away from his parent’s house where we were going to stay. My boyfriend came over a blind hill, only to find a large buck standing in the middle of the unlit road. He slammed on his breaks and swerved to the left, causing my head to slam into the car door with immense force. I was sleeping before this happened, so I was never aware of a deer in the road to begin with, but due to the moderate-to-severe concussion I suffered, I do not recall the events for the hour following the concussion either.

 I do not remember waking up from an unconscious state, crying inconsolably the way a child would. I do not remember my boyfriend trying to calm me down before we pulled up to his parent’s house. I do not remember my boyfriend trying to help me walk into the house because my coordination was impaired, becoming physically ill, or his dad (luckily a medical doctor) waking up to evaluate my situation. I do, however, remember everything leading up to falling asleep in the car. This temporary loss of memory is generally called anterograde amnesia, which refers to the inability to “assimilate or retain new knowledge” (Goldstein, 2011, pp. 149). When dealing with a concussion, or other traumatic brain injury, it is more specifically referred to as anterograde post-traumatic amnesia (National Institution of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2015). Part of the reason it is common to lose memory of the concussion and what immediately followed, is due to the fragility of new memories (Goldstein, pp. 193). The newer the memory is, the less time it has had to consolidate (become more permanent), and therefore relies more heavily on the hippocampus for retrieval (Goldstein, 194).

A few days later, my boyfriend was driving me from downtown Chicago to the suburbs where both of our parents live. Originally, we planned to visit both of our families, starting with his and ending with mine. On the ride, I decided just to visit my own parents, and asked if he could drop me off on the way to his, since I was still feeling fairly fatigued from my concussion. We continued down the Eisenhower Expressway for about ten minutes, and he took the exit for Roosevelt Road towards my parent’s house. Confused, I quickly responded “Wait! Why are you taking this exit? This is not the way to your Mom’s house.” I had completely forgotten that I had asked to be dropped off at my family’s house. My short-term memory had also been affected.

When I hit my head, my frontal lobe was the part of my brain that endured the trauma. Usually trauma to the prefrontal cortex affects the ability to control attention through the central executive, which controls and coordinates which information is processed through the phonological loop or the visuospatial sketch pad on its way to long term memory (Goldstein, 2013, pp. 136). We had agreed to visit his family first and discussed it a few times before I decided differently in the car. When I was surprised by the change of route, it was an effect of preservation (Goldstein, pp. 136). Had I been in control of the car, we would have followed the old plans and I would have driven to the undesired destination. Essentially, the concussion inhibited my prefrontal cortex’s ability to briefly hold information.

Lia Stoffle


Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2015). Traumatic Brain Injury: Hope Through Research. (NIH Publication No. 02-2478). Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/detail_tbi.htm#292043218

5 thoughts on “A Deer in the Headlights

  1. Timothy Clark Sadler

    While reading this blog it reminded me of a similar result that happened to my mother. On an afternoon on her way home from work she approached traffic on the highway, not long after that her car was rear ended this accident smashed the front and back end of her car she was emergency evacuated from the site. Luckily she survived the accident but when she hit her head she too suffered from retrograde amnesia. She had just finished her Master’s degree in public policy 6 months earlier. She remembers almost everything before the accident minus the things that had happened recently. She still to this day almost 4 years later has little to no short term memory but can recall my entire childhood and tell me stories from her own. But she can’t seem to remember the things that she learns to implement new policies at her place of business.

  2. Graciela Rosita Pulido

    A Deer In The Headlights Comment

    Graciela Pulido

    As I read this blog about the head trauma the writer suffered during an impact caused by a collision, I can only think of how painful it must have been to be suffering from the damage the collision caused to the head. After reading the full blog, my thoughts changed and I could only think of how much worse it must have been for the writer not being able to remember certain things and the inability to form new memories. Our hippocampus is an important piece of our brains and is one of the main foregrounds for the creation of new memories. This fact has been proven by studies carried out by Petrantonakis and Poirazi as stated in their research “different hippocampal sub-regions represent the very quintessence of its main functionality: the formation and retrieval of new memories.” By not being able to form new memories, one can only imagine how difficult it would be to interact with people. It would be like meeting new people all of the time since you cannot remember if you met them before. The research presented by Petrantonakis and Poirazi coincides with the post collision head trauma that the writer suffered immediately after the accident. They however breakdown the hippocampus functionality into a mathematical equation and explain the relevance of the equation of how it relates to the encoding and retrieving process of the hippocampus. This blog was well written and very vivid in the fact that I could visualize the actual incident as if I were a spectator of the accident. I agree that any head trauma that affects the brain in the frontal area would most definitely have an effect on how new memories are formed. As Blumer and Benson put it, “one of the most common effects of frontal damage can be a dramatic change in social behavior. A person’s personality can undergo significant changes after an injury to the frontal lobes, especially when both lobes are involved.” Seeing as how head injuries can cause one to undergo memory issues, it makes perfect sense how the accident caused the aftermath of memory loss or new memory formation to the writer of the blog.


  3. Kayleigh Glynn Beard-maguire

    I have had something very similar happen. My situation was a little different, I was pushed and hit my head on an asphalt parking lot. I do not remember what happened after that for quite a few hours. It happened around midnight and the next thing I remember it was time for me to get ready to meet my mom at church. From what I have been told, I walked inside and I refused to go get medical attention (the validity of what I have been told is still up for debate). The next day I was so sick and had this weird out of body feeling that is really hard to explain.

    What I find interesting is that you mentioned a side effect of not remembering a change in plans. I have done this frequently. I have a great long term memory. I remember many things I wish I could forget. However, when I am working I have to look at a checklist to make sure certain things are done on each phone call. I now have to follow that list religiously or I will repeat steps or skip them entirely.

    It is something that you never really think about, if you and I have this problem now, I wonder what memory problems athletes and soldiers have! Thank you for your post, It was very interesting to read!

  4. Heather Nichole Rogers

    The concept of amnesia has always been very interesting to me. We are who we are because of our memories. Its like building a house, when a child is small the house may only have a few bricks, by the time we are adults the house has many rooms. But what happens when we start removing bricks?

    Years ago I discovered the story of Jody Roberts, a reporter from Tacoma Washington. She mysteriously vanished in 1985. When she was found almost a week later, she had no idea who she was. After reciving treatment for her amnesia she decided to create a new life. She changed her name, studied a new language, and worked at a fast food resturaunt. She later moved to Alaska where she was married and had four children. One day she was discovered by someone who had known her when she was Jody. She reconnected with her family but vanished again shortly after. She has still not been found.

    Obviously this case is much different than anterograde amnesia from a head injury but both are very interesting. After Jody vanished a second time there was a lot of speculation about wether she actually had amnesia. Psychiatrists now believe that she was in a fugue state induced by the trauma of reconnecting with her family after 12 years. There is no mention of what could have caused her amnesia the first time she vanished. A fugue state differs from retrograde amnesia because it does not appear to be brought on by drugs, physical trauma or medical conditions. A person in a fugue state is suffereing from a complex psychological disorder. Unlike Jody, most people recover from this state fairly quickly.

    There is no way of telling what really happened to Jody Roberts, her case is made even more interesting because most people who experience a fugue state only experience it once.
    The first link below is a very interesting (but old) article about Jodys case.



  5. Stephanie Ashley Roseman

    Hi Lia,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. Anterograde amnesia, and well amnesia in general has always been an interesting concept to me. I was excited to finally get to learn a bit about it during this course. After reading your article I began to wonder if any other creatures on earth would be effected by something like amnesia. I used to be a veterinary technician, so of course this is the first thing that would come to my mind. I decided to do a little research. What I found was that having an episodic memory may only be a trait that humans carry. In order to have an episodic memory, you must have a sense of self, which animals do not have (Hyman, 2010). For example, they will not recognize themselves when looking in a mirror but instead may think it is another animal they are staring at. Also, having episodic memory means being able to mentally time travel. We have to understand that yesterday was different from today and today is different from tomorrow (Hyman, 2010). If you can’t understand this concept, there is no way for you to remember events that you may have participated in in the past. Someone who suffers from anterograde amnesia lacks episodic memory, which is similar to a dog however the dog did not suffer an injury to cause this, it is how they are hard wired. For example if you walk into a room with a dog, they may be over joyed to see you. If you stay for a while, eventually they will get bored with you. However, if you were to leave after about 10 minutes and then return again, they will once again be over joyed, not remembering that you were just there (Hyman, 2010). There is a great example in our lesson 6 commentary of this about Clive Wearing. Clive shows the same issues with his memory, and similar to the dog is unable to remember when his wife is just getting home or has just walked out of the room to return a few minutes later. Clive cannot distinguish between the two scenarios.


    Hyman, I. (2010). Dogs don’t remember. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201005/dogs-dont-remember

Leave a Reply