Phineas Gage

By Victoria Stern Phineas Gage The image has been laterally reversed to show the features correctly since daguerreotypes are mirror images. From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus On September 13, 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage triggered an explosion that propelled a 3 foot 7 inch iron rod straight through his skull, destroying a good portion of his brain. Luckily, the iron missed the critical blood vessels and parts of t

By | February 1, 2010

Phineas Gage

The image has been laterally reversed to show the features correctly since daguerreotypes are mirror images.
From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus

On September 13, 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage triggered an explosion that propelled a 3 foot 7 inch iron rod straight through his skull, destroying a good portion of his brain. Luckily, the iron missed the critical blood vessels and parts of the brain necessary for survival, but the injury spurred dramatic behavioral changes and made Gage’s accident one of the most important contributions to modern neurology.

“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.

Because Gage made public appearances and worked after the injury, Macmillan hypothesized that his personality change must have been “a temporary one” and “that he made a good psychosocial recovery.” Macmillan found further support for this theory when, in 2008, photographers Jack and Beverly Wilgus from Massachusetts revealed an image of Gage holding the pole that had shot through his brain. The picture, which they had possessed for 30 years but only recently identified as Gage, displays a handsome, proud, and confident-looking man.

“The image suggests that Phineas had adapted to his disfigurement and was not ashamed to display it,” writes Macmillan in an email. Gage’s mental improvement suggests that it’s possible for the brain to recover some of its function after an injury, he adds, although the details of Gage’s recovery remain a mystery.

Comments

Avatar of: David Fegredo

David Fegredo

Posts: 3

February 2, 2010

I remember years ago reading that Phineas Gage had had significant mental changes after the accident and along with the story was a picture of his skull with the remaining piece of the rod still in the skull as to remove it would have killed him. I read that his doctors cut the top and the bottom of the rod off leaving a short segment of rod entering just under his chin and ending at the top of his skull. The article described that he was left with a shorter patience and was quick to anger. How much of this was due to brain trauma and how much had to do with the fact he had a whopping great piece of metal rod through his head is anyones guess. I would be a bit surly too if I had part of a railroad spike left in my head too.
Avatar of: Teresa Madsen

Teresa Madsen

Posts: 1

February 2, 2010

I had always heard that he never recovered (mentally, despite the miraculous physical recovery), spending the rest of his years as a rude, drunken, swearing jerk unable to hold down a decent job or maintain a relationship with his family.\n\nAnd no, they didn't leave a chunk of the rod in his head. In fact, it flew straight through and cleanly out the other side to land several yards behind him. That's the actual rod he's holding in the picture, and you can see it hasn't been cut. The picture you've seen is a computer reconstruction of the skull, showing where the rod passed through.
Avatar of: NAN DOYLE

NAN DOYLE

Posts: 1

February 7, 2010

...is part of the collection of the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard Medical School. Open to the public:\nhttps://www.countway.harvard.edu/menuNavigation/historicalResources/warrenAnatomicalMuseum.html
Avatar of: bart baumler

bart baumler

Posts: 1

February 16, 2010

all articles I've ready have stated the rod passed clear through which sounds correct considering that it was used to pack explosives in a narrow hole to blow apart the side of a hill or rock. The rod should have been extremely hot and moving at a high velocity as it passed through Phineas.

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