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Phineas Gage and Frontal Lobes

Neuroscience psychology involves an integrated approach that is aimed at understanding the brain’s effect on psychological responses. One of the critical aspects of learning to treat mental health and wellness challenges effectively is recognizing the link between physical responses and potential emotional issues. In this regard, in neuroscience, Phineas Gage is often mentioned as one of the most renowned patients and remains a benchmark of today’s neuroscience. In 1848, while being a railroad worker, Gage sustained a traumatic brain injury after a tamping iron rod went through his whole skull (Bhaskara, 2016). This paper discusses Phineas personality before and after the incident. The theoretical perspectives to the incident include Somatic marker theory and the Iowa gambling task that have shaped neuroscience.

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Before the incident, Gage was even-tempered, but after the incident, even though, Gage did not lose consciousness, his character changed dramatically. He became a completely different individual, which was emotionally shallow, sluggish, vulgar and generally unreliable (Bhaskara, 2016). Based on the case, Damasio and researchers found out that social ineffectiveness and mood flattening always co-occur and are not separable. Further, Damasio referred to Gage syndrome to show the difference between primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions, including disgust, fear, and emotions, appear to be integrated and produced within the limbic system (Bhaskara, 2016). On the contrary, secondary feelings vary and are both learned and nuanced and emanate from the frontal regions and function through the older primary structure, which is explicated in the Somatic theory.

The Somatic theory’s reasoning is that the mind, body and spirit, and emotions are interrelated and linked to each other. Therefore, stress and emotional and trauma impact the central nervous system and occasion changes in the body, including body language, posture, and facial expressions (Munoz, 2017). Damasio used the Somatic Marker theory to explain how emotions play a critical role in decision-making and how the process relies on the brain’s frontal cortex. Damasio’s model was inspired by research on patients like Phineas Gage and adopted the term Somatic, which denotes signals related to both the body and the brain.

Another aspect of neuroscience linked to Phineas Gage case is the Iowa gambling task (IGT). The experiment was created to find out the kind of impairment in decision making (Aram et al., 2019). Specifically, IGT is used to examine the adverse impact of brain activities, including neural and cognitive decision-making. IGT can also be used to study the level of functional damage of frontal cortices, resulting in a change of mental processes associated with decision-making. The model can be used to explain the transformation in Gage’s personality, since it closely associates change in behavioral patterns to damage of the prefrontal lobes.

Over the years, neuroscience has evolved a lot, but case studies such as Phineas Gage’s accident remain relevant to this day understanding of relationship between human brain, frontal lobes and personalities. Theories, including those advanced by Damasio, such as the Somatic model, significantly inspired the railroad worker’s traumatic brain damage caused by an iron rod following the explosion. IGT, which is used to study severe effects on brain activities associated with the frontal lobe, further explains Gage’s post-injury change in behavior. The accident proved that one could survive damage to the frontal cortex, but this induces a personality change and exemplifies the frontal cerebral mantle’s role in human character.


Aram, S., Levy, L., Patel, J. B., Anderson, A. A., Zaragoza, R., Dashtestani, H., Chowdhry, F. A., Gandjbakhche, A., & Tracy, J. K. (2019). The Iowa Gambling Task: A review of the historical evolution, scientific basis, and use in functional neuroimaging. SAGE Open, 9(3), 1-12.

Bhaskara P. S. (2016). Footprints of Phineas Gage: Historical beginnings on the origins of brain and behavior and the birth of cerebral localizationism. Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences, (4)2, 280-286, DOI:10.4103/2321-4848.196182.

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Muñoz J. M. (2017). Somatic markers, rhetoric, and post-truth. Frontiers in psychology, (8)1273.

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