Medicine is a good idea #13 Where lies our personality? Short story of Phineas Gage.

in health •  2 years ago 


How is that possible that we are so different? Why everyone reacts in other way for the same things? What defines our temperament?

These are the questions which since ancient times bother philiosophs, sages and casual people. Despite the fact that we are definitetly closer to the truth we also cannot admit that we know everything today about that matter. Things which today seem to be obvious used to be a topic of a long discussions and arguments. Role of our brain as a controler of emotions wasn't known for a really long time. In ancients times popular were many theories which seems bizzare today.
For example Hippocrates thought that our personality is affected by concentration of body fluids. He divided people into 4 personality types. Every type of personality depends on dominance of one fluid:

  • sanguine (łac. sanguis – blood)

  • choleric (gr. chole – bile)

  • melancholic (gr. mélanos – black + chole – bile)

  • phlegmatic (gr. phlegma)


By Charles Le Brun - RMN, Public Domain

But as time goes by the role of brain as a controler of emotion and also our personality became quite clear. Therefore brain is a complex organ with many parts of different use. How come that we know today that personality is placed in frontal lobes of our brain?
Here we come to the story of Phineas Gage. Man who isn't connected to medicine at all. A supervisor of railway, working in Vermont state of USA.


By Photograph by Jack and Beverly Wilgus of daguerreotype originally from their collection, and now in the the Warren Anatomical Museum, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. - Praca własna, CC BY-SA 3.0

As many times before the progress was made by accident, this time this accident was almost fatal to Phineas. One of the things which Phineas did during his job was planting an explosives, which were put into holes in the ground and then tamped down with metal bar. 13 september 1948 during this activity occured and accident. Payload exploded while Phineas was tamping it with metal bar.As a consequence of explosion metal bar pierced trough face and frontal lobes of Phineas Gage and then flew 30 meteres from the place of an accident. This kind of accident usally means death in couple seconds but somehow this time was different. Phineas after few minutes regained consciousness and was awake during his journey to local doctor that took almost an hour. Physician said that Mr. Gage this day was in stable state and his pupils were reacting to light. After short recovery Phineas Gage returned to his job on railway.


By J.B.S. Jackson, MD - A Descriptive Catalog of the Warren Anatomical Museum (1870), Public Domain

Altough after this short break person who returned to job wasn't alike to Phineas at all! Phineas Gage used to be known as calm, patient and kind person but after accident he changed to hot-tempered and agressive person. Because of that he lost his job and spend rest of his life looking for his place and working in many different profesions. He even worked as an attraction in circus.

Becouse of its specularity case of Phineas Gage was documented by physycians and we can say that it was first documented case of Frontal Lobe Disorder.


Frontal Lobe Disorders are usally seen during opression in brain caused by tumors. Symptoms of change in personality usally come out as one of the early symtpoms of illness. It's essential for doctors and also family to observe this early symptoms! Frontal Lobe disorders manifests differently depending on part of lobe which has been destroyed.

Processes that are localised in upper part of lobe are manifested by :

  • apathy
  • lowering drive
  • problems with memory

Processes that are localised in inferior part of lobe are manifested by :

  • inapropriate behavior
  • lowered criticism
  • unstable temperament

Thats all for today thanks for reading :) If u have any questions ask me in comments!

Pictures taken from Pixabay or authors are written below

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