Phineas Gage's Story in Psychology: Brain Damage & Personality Changes

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  • 0:01 Phineas Gage's Accident
  • 1:32 Physical Injuries
  • 2:03 Psychological Injuries
  • 2:30 Importance of Gage's Story
  • 3:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alyssa Gilston
The story of Phineas Gage is one of the most famous in the history of psychology. Learn about Phineas Gage, the accident that caused him to have personality changes, and how he greatly influenced the field and practice of neuropsychology.

Phineas Gage's Accident

Imagine that a single incident could change your entire personality. That's what reportedly happened to mild-mannered Phineas Gage after a severe work-related accident left him acting like a completely different person. His unfortunate situation allowed psychologists and researchers to hypothesize about the existence of a link between brain structures and personality.

In 1848, 25-year-old Phineas Gage was a foreman on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad where it was his job to prepare the ground for future train tracks. On September 13, Gage was packing holes with gunpowder when the powder detonated. It caused an iron rod that was 3 feet 7 inches long and 13 ½ pounds to fly through the air and pierce through his head. The rod entered through his lower left jaw and exited through the middle of his head. The rod landed 300 feet away and left Gage blind in his left eye.

Remarkably, Gage lived to tell his story, and some say he never lost consciousness. Right after the accident, he sat up, climbed into a wagon, and asked for medical assistance. While Gage survived the accident with the ability to speak, think, and remember, his personality reportedly changed so much that he became too difficult to work with and he could not hold a steady job or stick to any plan. He went to work in New Hampshire as a stable hand and then as a coach driver in Chile. After moving around quite a bit, Phineas Gage died in 1860 following a series of seizures which were likely a result of his accident.

Phineas Gage
Phineas Gage

Physical Injuries

Much of our current understanding of what happens when people sustain head injuries comes from patients like Gage who have suffered some type of brain injury. As a result of this type of research, we know that injuries to certain areas of the brain can cause problems with language, a condition known as aphasia. Amazingly, Gage suffered no speech impairments as a result of his accident, and his memory remained intact. It is believed that the accident damaged a region in Gage's cerebral cortex that is associated with higher mental processes such as thinking, language and speech.

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