Phineas Gage and the Alphabet Soup

In the late 1800s, an unfortunate, yet somewhat lucky, man named Phineas Gage, accidentally helped doctors understand the importance of the brain.  An explosion while at work caused an iron rod to shoot up from his chin up through the skull and out the top.  Mr. Gage is often times noted as neuroscience’s (study of the brain) first and most important patient.  Mr. Gage survived the ordeal with one less eye and at first, seemingly unaffected.  All of his natural functions worked as they did before and he continued to be able to read and talk to people: but those who knew him personally saw that Phineas Gage was not the same man after the accident.  Mr. Gage no longer had a drive to work and worse, he was impulsive, moody and easily agitated.

 It wasn’t until he found employment with regimented schedules and strict daily structure that he was able to behave more socially and function professionally.  While the fact that the man survived in and of itself is fascinating but it was through Gage’s trials, tribulations and triumphs that medical practitioners began to appreciate and better understand the brain, it’s parts and it’s many functions


    Phineas Gage had what would now be described as a, “TBI: traumatic brain injury.”  We commonly hear about TBIs in respects to talking about aging football players and boxers who are clearly suffering from neurological symptoms such as moodiness, equilibrium problems and forgetfulness as a result of far too many blows to the head.  Interestingly enough, by the early 1900s, doctors were beginning to identify that some children displayed similar behavioral and cognitive challenges.

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Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

McKinlay, A. (2014). Long-Term Outcomes of Traumatic Brain Injury in Early Childhood. Australian Psychologist, 49(6), 323-327. doi:10.1111/ap.12084

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