Closer Look The Brain Injury of Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage was a nineteenth-century rail worker, serving as foreman on a construction gang preparing the way for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in Vermont. His work involved blasting large rocks with dynamite, and one day he was injured in a serious accident. Prior to his accident, Phineas was an industrious worker, highly agreeable and conscientious, and seen by his employers as one of their most capable and efficient foremen. On September 13, 1848, he was tamping dynamite into a hole in a rock using an iron rod. The dynamite accidentally ignited and the explosion shot the iron rod out of the hole like a bullet. Phineas was bending over the work area. The iron rod he was working with was 1V4 inches in diameter, 3-feet, 7-inches long, and weighed almost 14 pounds. It was tapered at one end almost to a point. The heavy iron rod came out of the tamping hole point first. It shot up through Gage's left cheek, just below the cheek bone, passed behind his left eye and exited the top of his skull, landing approximately 75 feet away. Gage was knocked off his feet but did not lose consciousness. The iron rod destroyed a large portion of the front part of his brain. Remarkably, Gage survived this accident. He spent 10 weeks under a doctor's care, then returned to his home in New Hampshire. Even more remarkably, most of his intellectual functions remained intact. However, his personality changed dramatically. His doctor, John Harlow, described the new Phineas Gage as "obstinate, capricious, and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned, a child, yet with the passions of a strong ma n" (cited in Carter, 1999). He lacked the ability to direct himself nor could he devise plans to achieve goals. He was impulsive and aggressive. He started using profane language and disregarded social conventions, behaving impolitely toward those around him. Women were advised to avoid him. He never worked as a foreman again. Instead, he had various farm jobs, mostly caring for horses and

Phineas Gage Skull And Brain Model
Reconstruction of the path of the iron rod through the brain of Phineas Gage.

cleaning stables. He died on May 21, 1860, almost 12 years after his devastating accident. His skull and the iron rod are on display at Harvard's Countway Library of Medicine. See Macmillan (2000) for a modern perspective on this famous case.

(choleric); and an abundance of black bile made a person unhappy , pessimistic, and somber (melancholic). Galen wrote that "the melancholic . . . shows fear and depression, discontent with life and hatred of all people. [F]ear of death is the principle concern . . . [T]he black humour [bile] . . . brings about the fear . . . All people call this affliction . . melancholis, indicating by this term that the black humour is responsible" (from Siegel, 1973, p. 195). The bodily-fluid theor of personality remained in favor for centuries, influencing both philosophers (e.g., Immanuel Kant) and earl psychologists (e.g., Wilhelm Wundt). Although antiquated by today' s understanding of both physiology and medicine, Galen' s theory is noteworthy as one of the firs to take a physiological approach to personality (Stelmack & Stalkas, 1991).

Physiologically oriented approaches are based on the premise that psychological characteristics, such as friendliness and thoughtfulness, are due to an underlying physiological system.

An advantage of the physiological approach is that physiological characteristics can be measured mechanically and reliably . The term physiological characteristics refers to the functioning of organ systems within the body. Examples of physiological systems are the nervous system (including the brain and nerves), the cardiac system (including the heart, arteries, and veins), and the musculoskeletal system (including the muscles and bones, which make all movements and behaviors possible). To get an idea of the importance of these physiological systems, imagine the result of removing any one of them. Without a brain, a person could not think or respond to the environment; without the musculoskeletal system, a person could not move or act on the environment; and, without a cardiac system, the result is obvious. All of the physiological systems are important to the maintanence of life, and their study has resulted in the fields of medicine, anatom , and physiology.

From the perspective of personality psychology , physiology is important to the extent that dif ferences in physiology create, contribute to, or indicate dif ferences in psychological functioning. For example, people dif fer from one another in how sensitive their nervous systems are to stimulation. Given exposure to loud noise, for example, some people find it quite irritating, whereas other people are not bothere at all. A person who is particularly sensitive might frequent quiet environments (e.g., the library), avoid crowds (e.g., not go to loud parties), and limit the amount of stimulation in their environments (e.g., never play loud rock-and-roll music). The physiologically oriented personality psychologist would say that this person is introverted (a psychological characteristic) because he or she has an overly sensitive nervous system (a physiological characteristic). Thus, this approach assumes that dif ferences in physiological characteristics are related to dif ferences in important personality characteristics and behavior patterns. In this chapter , we will discuss several physiology-personality relationships.

Another characteristic of the physiological approach to personality is simplicity or parsimony. Physiological theories often propose to explain a good deal of behavior with a few constructs. Often the theories simply state that a physiological dif fer-ence results in a given personality dif ference or a difference in an important behavior pattern. Why, for example, do some people take up skydiving, race car driving, and other high-risk behaviors? One theory states that they do so because they have a defi ciency of a certain chemical in their nervous systems. Despite the obvious simplicity of theories such as these, human nature is actually more complicated. For example, two people could be equally high on sensation seeking, yet one of them has satisfie this need in a socially approved matter (for instance, by becoming an emergency room doctor), while the other satisfies it in a socially unacceptable manner (for example through various exciting but illegal behaviors, such as illegal gambling or drug use). Most physiologically oriented psychologists would not argue that "physiology is destiny." Most would agree that physiology is only one cause among many for explaining behavior.

As you know from Chapter 1, Gordon Allport wrote one of the first textbooks i personality (1937), and in it he ar gued that "the or ganization (of personality) entails the operation of both body and mind, inextricably fused into a personal unity" (p. 48). Because personality consists of both bodily and mental aspects, its study can be approached from either direction. In this chapter , we will focus on several physiological systems that contribute to our understanding of personality .

Figure 7.1

Building a theoretical bridge that links personality to specific situations in terms of evoking a certai psychological response, which can be identified and measured using specific physiological measures A theory specifies which conditions or stimuli will interact with which personality traits to produce specif responses, which can be observed physiologically.

Figure 7.1

Building a theoretical bridge that links personality to specific situations in terms of evoking a certai psychological response, which can be identified and measured using specific physiological measures A theory specifies which conditions or stimuli will interact with which personality traits to produce specif responses, which can be observed physiologically.

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