Phineas Gage Before the accident of Phineas Gage, the science world had very little understanding of the brain. A few doctors had tried to link the brain to cognitive functions but were met with very little support for their ideas. This is most likely because they had little to no proof of their assumptions. After Gage’s accident, people began to realize that the brain had far more power and ability than originally expected and from then on, was studied in new ways. This paper will discuss the accident that led to this finding and how it changed the science of brain study.
The Accident Phineas Gage was a 25-year-old rail road foreman. On September 13, 1848 he used a tamping iron to pack explosive powder. He got distracted and hit a rock that caused a spark and the dynamite exploded. The tamping iron punctured the left side of his face under his cheek. It went behind his eye, straight through his skull, and landed a few feet behind him. He was briefly knocked unconscious. Within a few minutes, he was on his feet and conversing with his coworkers. They helped him back to his house and waited with him until a doctor arrived. At 6:00 p.m., Dr. John Harlow arrived. Harlow (1999) commented that, aside from being exhausted from the blood loss, Gage was completely lucid. He even told Dr. Harlow (1999) he, “hoped he was not hurt much” (p. 281). Over the next several months, Gage recovered what seemed like, completely. However, Dr. Harlow noticed changes in Gage’s personality. Before the accident his coworkers regarded him as well liked, efficient and capable but after the accident they would not give him his job back because of such a “change in his mind” (O’Driscoll & Leach, 1998, p. 1673). Harlow described his new intellectual capacity as “childish” and remarked that he has a hard time restraining himself (O’Driscoll & Leach, 1998, p. 1673 ). Gage no longer understood social norms and felt free to pursue desire without thought of consequence. After witnessing this complete shift in personality, Harlow hypothesized that the brain, particularly the frontal lobe section that was damaged in Gage’s case, was the cause of this part of his personality (Phineas Gage, 2004, para. 3).
The Aftermath Harlow’s theory was not well received at first. The first testing of his theory did not come until 10 years later. David Ferrier removed prefrontal lobes in monkeys and observed that, though they didn’t lose any intelligence or have any other signs of neurological defects¸ their personality had been quite altered (O’Driscoll & Leach, 1998, p. 1673). Since then the study of the brain with cognitive functioning had yielded amazing results. During studies of people with prefrontal brain injuries, scientists have found that they all have many traits in common. They retain memory and intelligence without being able to make future plans or comprehend consequences. According to O’Driscoll & Leach (1998), “The patients showed callous unconcern, boastfulness, and unrestrained and tactless behavior” (para. 6 ). Because of its similarity to the disease of sociopathy, it has been called “acquired sociopathy” (O’Driscoll & Leach, 1998). Patients with this brain injury cannot seem to weigh options and then pick one that has the best outcome with the least ramifications. Since all of these findings, science has delved deep into the cognitive function of the brain. At first, doctors thought they could just remove the sick part of person’s brain with a lobotomy. Today they use MRI machines to view actual cognitive brain activity in real time. These have used these to pinpoint which cognitive functions come from which parts of the brain. Recently, they were used to definitively diagnose a type of depression that has responds