Phineas Gage

Topics: Memory, Brain, Cognition Pages: 5 (1718 words) Published: February 22, 2013
Phineas Gage


In 1848, there was a railroad worker named Phineas Gage, who was severely injured on the job. In this essay, the author will discuss the details of the accident and what it revealed about how the different areas of the human brain support cognitive function. I will also discuss the characteristics of primary memory, the process of memory from perception and retrieval and the unreliability of memory retrieval.

Phineas Gage
Phineas gage is known as one of the most famous documented cases of brain injury. This brain injury occurred on September 13th, 1848 while Gage was working on the railroad excavating rocks with a tampering rod in the State of Vermont. An explosion occurred on the job-site that caused a tampering rod propelled at an extremely high speed to enter and penetrate Gage’s skull. This tampering rod entered his skull under his left cheek bone and exited through the top of his head; it was later recovered with bits of brain matter and blood on it. The amazing thing is that throughout this horrific accident, Mr. Gage never lost consciousness, in fact, by January of the following year; he had started to live a normal life. However, it was noted that around this time, Mr. Gage was considered to be suffering from some major changes in his personality. What Phineas Gage’s Accident Reveals about Cognitive Functions

“Cognition refers to the higher order functions that are needed for learning and interacting with a person's environment. Each human brain is capable of multiple cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, executive functions and language. Each of the cognitive brain functions is highly interconnected, with an exchange of information between functions” (Stannard, 2010). When Phineas Gage's accident occurred, many people were skeptical because it was such a horrific accident, and it was hard to believe that anyone could survive an ordeal like that and lead any type of normal life. The accident occurred in September 1948 and according to his wife, and others that were close to him, in the course of a few months, (January 1849), his behavior had changed dramatically. Up to that point; Phineas Gage was considered to be even tempered, however in January, People began noticing that Mr. Gage was irrereverant, fitful that he engaged in gross profanity and was impatient of any type of restraint or advice. In Gage's case, according to the physician (Harlow) who treated Gage after the accident, because the tamping rod entered the cranium, passed through the anterior left lobe of the cerebrum, the injury was to his cerebrum, and limited to his left hemisphere, this caused Gage to have changed in his personality, thoughts, speech, planning, and organizational skills and did not cause any damage to his other cognitive functions. Mr. Gage's accident is one of the most famous documented cases of brain injury. Phineas Gage's is considered to be a legend in the annals of neurology, which is largely based on the study of brain damaged patients. "This was the first case when doctors made a definite connection between an injury to the brain and a change in personality," says Malcolm Macmillan, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Melbourne in Australia and an expert on Gage. Linking the damage in Gage's prefrontal cortex to his sudden erratic behavior was one of the first clues that the prefrontal cortex was responsible for personality expression and decision making (Stern, 2012). The Characteristics of Primary Memory

Primary memory is more commonly known as short-term memory. Primary memory is the workstation in which information is temporarily encoded, manipulated, and either forgotten, or passed on to secondary memory, according to many of the studies cited in the text the capacity of primary memory is between five and nine units, depending on the type of unit and individual in question (Willingham, 2007). It appears that primary memory is limited to two seconds...

References: Repressed Memories and Recovered Memory Therapy, pg.1 Retrieved January17, 2012 from:
Roizman, T. (2010). The Brain Functions Involved in Cognitive Functions. Retrieved from
Stannard, L. (2010). Cognitive Brain Functions. Retrieved from
Stern, V. (2010). Phineas gage. The Scientist, 24(2), 68-68. Retrieved from
Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. New York, NY: Pearson Prentice Hall.
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