Phineas Gage, a Miracle

Phineas Gage was an American railroad worker who was known for surviving a traumatic brain injury. He was born into a family of farmers in July 1823 in New Hampshire. Later, he began to work for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad company and his duty was to clear rocks to flatten the ground. To accomplish this, he had to place explosives deep into the rock by drilling a hole. Then, the hole was filled with gunpowder and a fuse was set.

One afternoon, September 13th, 1848, near Cavendish, Vermont, Gage was adding sand on the gunpowder and flattening it with a metal rod about 1 meter in length and 3.2 cm in diameter when, suddenly, it struck the side of the rock which ignited the gunpowder. In an instant, the rod shot through Gage’s head below his left cheekbone and exited from the top of his skull and sent the 13.25-pound rod flying 25 meters behind him. Surprisingly, Gage was fully conscious and able to speak immediately afterward. After the incident, Dr John Martyn Harlow took over the case of Phineas and observed that Gage was speaking with difficulty. By October 11, Gage’s intellectual functioning improved to the point where he could describe the accident clearly. Gage died on May 21st, 1861, after having a series of repeated epileptic convulsions. Now, the iron rod and Gage’s skull are both on display at the Harvard School of Medicine.

After Gage fully recovered, he wants to reapply for his role as a foreman. However, he got rejected for the job because he was not ‘efficient and capable’ anymore; his personality has changed. “The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible.” (Harlow, 1868).

The reason that Phineas Gage is important to the study of Psychology is because he is the first person from whom we learned about the link between personality and the frontal lobes of the brain. In other words, he was the first one to suggest that there is a link between brain trauma and personality change.

Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Phineas Gage. Britannica Academic. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://academic-eb-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Phineas-Gage/604924

Guy-Evans, O. (2020, November 30). Phineas Gage | Simply Psychology. Phineas Gage | Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/phineas-gage.html

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