Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage Paper The brain plays a significant role in cognitive functioning. The human brain is made up of various structures, and each of these structures is responsible for specific cognitive functions. Scientists and psychologists have conducted many studies and experiments in an effort to pinpoint which brain structures are responsible for certain cognitive functions. In the past, technology was quite limited which left few options for studying the human brain. The only way to study the brain at this point in time was to perform studies on subjects that were already deceased.
While this did help shed some light on cognitive functioning there were still many unanswered questions and misunderstandings about the brain and its functions. One particular case that has been linked to the brains role in cognition is that of Phineas Gage. Gage suffered a traumatic brain injury which altered his original cognitive functioning abilities. The case of Phineas Gage has left a lasting mark on the world of cognitive psychology and has been used as a prime example of how the brain affects cognitive functioning. Cognitive Functioning
The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes as well as into left and right hemispheres. Martinez (2010, pp. 237) states that, “The cerebral cortex is the anatomical origin of the mind’s higher-order functions—reasoning, intelligence, creativity, and problem-solving—as well as the coordination of sensory input and motor control that helps us relate skillfully to our environments. ” By segregating each structure of the cerebral cortex a greater understanding is achieved as to which section is responsible for certain cognitive functions.

One important discovery was that the left and right hemisphere of the brain actually process information differently. Phineas Gage’s Life Changing Accident Phineas Gage’s life changing accident took place in the year of 1848. Gage worked on a railroad construction crew. When the accident occurred, Gage was using a tamping iron to fill holes in the ground with gunpowder. Doing so would allow space for the new railroad to be laid. Unfortunately for Phineas Gage, an unexpected explosion occurred which sent the tamping iron straight through his skull. The tamping iron entered through Gage’s left heek bone and exited through the top of his skull. Amazingly enough, Gage was conscious and able to walk just a few minutes after the accident took place. Due to the massive wounds, Phineas Gage was not expected to survive when he arrived to a local physician named John Martin Harlow. Harlow had to remove small bone fragments from the wound and then closed the primary wound on the top of Gage’s head using adhesive straps and a wet compress. This allowed the wound to drain. Gage was never surgically treated for his wounds. Gage suffered three major injuries as a result of his accident.
Despite the extremely traumatic injuries that Gage sustained from his accident, he was able to recover and by 1849 Gage was leading a seemingly normal life. However, shortly after Gage’s recovery those closest to him began noticing dramatic changes in his overall demeanor. His wife and family members noted a significant change in his personality. Harlow also noticed changes within Gage’s personality. Harlow was allowed to examine Gage’s body a few years after his death. By examining Gage’s brain and skull Harlow was able to determine what structures of the brain were harmed by the accident.
This allowed Harlow to make connections between Gage’s change in behavior prior to and after the accident. He was able to “estimate from the skull that damage had occurred mainly to the left anterior part of the frontal lobes, including the orbitofrontal cortex” (Wickens, 2005, p. 160). This type of damage seemed to lead to inappropriate behaviors and a loss of social inhibitions, which were not apparent prior to the accident (Deakin University, 2010). Harlow’s observations allowed him to write several publications which became very significant within the field of psychology.
His publications were aimed towards uncovering that damage to certain areas of the brain can result in dysfunctions within the cognitive system. Gage sustained the most damage to the orbitofrontal cortex. This part of the brain is believed to play a role in emotional behavior and decision making processes, which is likely why Gage experienced such a significant change in behavior after the accident. Gage’s accident is significant because it enabled psychologists and scientists “to associate that the frontal lobes are essential to cognitive and emotional self-regulation” (Martinez, 2010, p. 46). Conclusion Cognitive functioning is attributed primarily to the inner workings of the human brain. The major structures that make up the brain each play an exclusive role in certain cognitive functions. The discoveries made by studying Gage’s brain injuries and the effect that they had on his behavior and personality has made a lasting impression on the field of psychology. Gage’s accident led to many new theories and studies to uncover how brain injuries and illnesses could affect cognitive functioning.
Without a proper understanding of the brain and its crucial role in behavior and mental processes it would be impossible to comprehend the various cognitive functions that exist. References Deakin University. (2010). Phineas Gage’s Story. Psychology: Phineas Gage Information. Retrieved June 18, 2011 from http://www. deakin. edu. au/hmnbs/psychology/gagepage/Pgstory. php Martinez, M. , E. (2010). Learning and cognition: The design of the mind. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. Wickens, A. , P. (2005). Foundation of biopsychology. (2nd ed. ). New York, NY: Pearson & Prentice Hall Inc.

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