Tag Archives: psychology

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