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Psychologists Reexamine Phineas Gage, the Badass Who Survived a Three-Foot Spike to His Brain

Psychologists Reexamine Phineas Gage, the Badass Who Survived a Three-Foot Spike to His Brain: Via Wikimedia.org.

Via Wikimedia.org.

Everything you know about Phineas Gage is wrong!

Oh, you don’t know anything about Phineas Gage? Then I guess we’ll start there.

Gage was a nineteenth century railway worker who somehow survived having a three-foot iron rod driven through the front of his brain. His recovery, and the effects of his injury on his personality, became one of the earliest and most famous case studies in modern psychology.

Psychology textbooks tend to focus on the fact that while Gage managed to survive the ordeal, his brain injury resulted in a drastic change to his personality. In the aftermath of the incident, one of his friends claimed that the man he once knew was “no longer Gage.”

Via Wikipedia.org

Via Wikipedia.org

However, according to Richard Griggs, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida, leading psychology text books tend to omit or completely gloss over Gage’s remarkable recovery, and focus solely on the immediate results of his injury.

“It is important to the psychological teaching community to identify inaccuracies in our textbooks so that they can be corrected,” Griggs told BPS Research Digest. “We as textbook authors and teachers do not continue to ‘give away’ false information about our discipline.”

Thanks to painstaking historical analysis of primary sources… and the discovery… of new photographic evidence of post-accident Gage, it is now believed that Gage made a remarkable recovery from his terrible injuries. He ultimately emigrated to Chile where he worked as a horse-coach driver, controlling six horses at once and dealing politely with non-English speaking passengers. The latest simulations of his injury help explain his rehabilitation – it’s thought the iron rod passed through his left frontal lobe only, leaving his right lobe fully intact.

Yet, the textbooks mostly tell a different story. Of the 21 that cover Gage, only 4 mention the years he worked in Chile. Only three detail his mental recovery. Fourteen of the books tell you about the first research that attempted to identify the extent of his brain injuries, but just four of the books give you the results from the most technically advanced effort, published in 2004, that first suggested his brain damage was limited to the left frontal lobe. Only 9 of the books feature either of the two photos to have emerged of Gage in recent times.

Whether the text books intentionally omit Gage’s recovery out of convenience or laziness isn’t known. One of the books actually claimed that Gage survived for 20 years with the rod still in his head, so I’m going to assume it’s laziness. Regardless, one thing is for sure: Just because you’ve had your head impaled on a metal rod doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go on to lead a happy, productive life (that eventually ends in swarm of painful debilitating seizures).

(Source: BPS Research Digest)

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