Monday 22 September 2014

Research Bulletin: Traumatic Brain Injury in Asterix and Obelix Comics

Here at OnFiction we are primarily concerned with employing the tools of psychological science to better understand the cognitive processes associated with narrative fiction. Fiction, however, can also be usefully employed to illustrate the principles of psychology. In a light-hearted article published in the journal Acta Neurochirurgica, Marcel Kamp (Heinrich-Heine-University) and his colleagues analyzed all of the instances of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurred within the popular Asterix comic books. For those unfamiliar with this series, it describes how a single tiny village in (formerly) Gaul successfully fends off the Roman occupation thanks to a magic potion that confers great strength to its warriors. Asterix, the Gaul warrior, and his friend Obelix (a menhir delivery man) have a great many adventures that inevitably involve Roman legionnaires (and others) getting thumped on the head an awful lot. The researchers read all of the Asterix comic books and noted evidence of TBI (e.g., raccoon eyes, A.K.A. periorbital ecchymoses), rated its severity, and noted the important contextual factors. Across all of the books there were a shocking number of instances of TBI, with over 700 suspected cases. Nearly all of the cases could be described as adult males receiving blunt-force trauma to the head within the context of an assault. Romans seem to have gotten the worst of it, accounting for 450 of the 704 cases, but the Gauls did not go unscathed, likely suffering a TBI in 120 cases. As far as perpetrators go, Asterix and Obelix were often involved (402 cases) although the other Gauls also got their lumps in (208 cases). Thankfully, all symptoms of TBI appeared to resolve within a few hours. One of the most important factors appears to be whether a helmet was worn by the victim or not. Although most victims wore a protective helmet, in the vast majority of cases this helmet was lost during the traumatic incident (88%), which resulted in a more severe TBI. This study holds important relevance for readers wishing to avoid TBI. Namely, leave the Gauls alone and keep your helmet chinstraps fastened.

Kamp, M. A., Slotty, P., Sarikaya-Seiwert, S., Steiger, H.-J., & Hänggi, D. (2011). Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books. Acta Neurochirurgica, 153, 1351–1355.

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