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Phineas Gage: Famous Patient of Neuroscience and Psychology
Published on: June 22, 2021

How do we make decisions? What are emotions? do emotions make us weak or irrational? Let us Understand our Brain and emotions more closely by this curious case of Phineas Gage.

Phineas Gage was a medical miracle and he was very helpful for the early studies on the brain. Earlier, beliefs were that our brain works as a whole, without any specific sections for certain activities. But this case changed that common belief.

Phineas Gage Story

Phineas Gage is one of the most famous patients in neuroscience and psychology.
On September 13, 1848, 25-year-old Gage was working as the foreman of a crew preparing a railroad bed in Vermont. when a life-changing accident occurred. While preparing the railroad bed, a– 3 foot 7-inch iron bar flew into Gage’s lower jaw and out through his skull.

Gage miraculously survived the initial injury and was able to speak and walk to a nearby hospital. He was still conscious, and later that day, he was able to remember the names of his co-workers, when asked by a doctor. 

But little did anyone knew that Gage had suffered from mental changes after the accident. Early reports of Gage often portray him as a hardworking, friendly and fun-loving man before the accident, but Post-accident, his friends and family would describe him as a changed man. Gage had lost his ability to feel any emotional connection and his personality drastically changed after the accident. He became aggressive and alcoholic. He would hop from one job to another before finally landing a job in a circus play. It was very unlike him, as told by his close associates.

Sadly, due to a lack of knowledge of brain functions in those days and also to a dearth of proper care after his accident, Gage died due to  epileptic seizures, on May 21, 1860, but this was after 12 years of his near-death injury. His story did not just end with his death.

Around seven years later, Gage’s body was exhumed. His skull and the rod which caused the accident was dug out for further studies of psychology and neurology.

What were the findings from the Phineas Gage case?

This case had an enormous influence on early neurology. The specific changes observed in Gage’s behaviour suggested that certain functions are associated with specific areas of the brain.

It was noted that Gage performed above average on cognitive tests, but since his prefrontal cortex was damaged, he lost his ability to experience emotions. The drastic change in his personality gave early hints to researchers, that the prefrontal cortex plays a role in developing our personality.

Later, the researchers could also understand and learn about the link between emotions and rational thinking. They found that emotions help us think better, in fact, emotions make our thinking much more rational as they provide information on how we understand the world around us and hence emotions guide our behaviour.

Gage played a role in the later evolution of various forms of psychosurgery‍ and the very first lobotomy was performed on him.

Not only medical science but this case has somewhere helped marketers and organizational behavioural researchers. This case has significantly ignited the study of our emotions and personality.

According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, we make 95% of our decisions, particularly purchase decisions, emotionally and sunconciously.

This case opened the portal of the brain, quite literally, and helped us comprehend more about our brain.

Phineas Gage’s life may not have been fruitful, but the very accident made him an unfortunate and unforgettable survivor.

What are your thoughts? Do share your learning or opinion on this topic in the comment section.

To read about the fascinating story on Chocolate and the science behind it Click Here.


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