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The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

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The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

Shawntell M. Warr

PSY 360

December 2, 2013

Evi Pover

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

There are many areas in the brain and only certain areas have an impact on cognitive functioning. In 1848 a man named Phineas Gage had an accident that showed crucial aspects of certain brain areas that support cognitive functions. His case lead to discovering unknown traits of brain injuries. It also showed how dysfunction leads psychologist into discovering cognitive functioning. Many people are not able to comprehend the opportunity Phineas Gage's case offered. By using common examples it helps put into perspective the human brain. This work will examine and explain cognitive functioning and the brain's role, give examples to form a more solid understanding of the brain's role in cognitive functioning, and discuss Phineas Gage's importance to the field of cognitive psychology.

"A cognitive function is a person's ability to process thoughts and information" (Willingham, 2007). Things such as memory or learning perception are examples of cognitive functions. Certain areas of the brain are responsible for cognitive functions. For example, the frontal lobe is dorsal and anterior. It is responsible for "elimination of inappropriate social responses, understanding impending outcomes, and blunting emotions" (Schretlen & Shapiro, 2003, p. 344). The amygdala is another part of the brain that supports cognitive functioning. It helps a person process emotion. Phineas Gage was a railroad foreman who suffered damage to his prefrontal lobes from an iron bar being launched through his head. This happened thirty years before Psychology began, so study his injury perplexed his physician, John Marlow. While there are few reports of Gage's personality prior to the accident many believed his personality changed after the accident. He was described, as "a quiet man, of temperate habits, a great favourite with his men, energetic in executing his plans, a shrewd, smart, businessman, and the best foreman employed in the construction of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad"(Macmillan & Lena, 2010). To form an opinion of whether his personality changed or not, one should know if his injury could possibly be responsible at all. Many researchers developed an analysis out of existing research that states, " moderate-severe traumatic brain injury causes larger and more persistent impairment of overall cognitive functioning" (Schretlen & Shapiro, 2003, p. 346). With the rod going through is frontal lobe it is possible that Gage's personality did change. The damage to his frontal cortex resulted in no social inhibitions. This could account for friend's new account of Gage as "fitful, indulging at times in the grossest profanity and he abandoned plans as soon as he made them"(Crichton, 2001). The brain's role in his life was changed as a result of his accident. Gage's accident, in this case, shows how certain parts of the brain support cognitive functioning.

Every part of the normal human brains plays a special role in cognitive functions. A few brief examples will help develop a firm idea of what the brain is like to cognitive functioning. Multifaceted functions come from synchronized actions of several parts of the brain. This is much like how a piece of music reflects the synchronized actions of musicians within a musical ensemble (Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, n.g). Imagine



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