Human brain has been studied by the researchers for years so that they can find its accurate role in cognitive functions. In this particular endeavor, the case of Phineas Gage holds a significant importance as it offers insight into the cognitive functions of the brain and how they are affected by a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The accident of Phineas Gage has been helpful in uncovering the authentic facts about the cognitive functions of brain, areas that support cognitive functioning and the consequences as a result of the occurrence of a traumatic brain injury ( TBI) (Willingham, 2007).
– Cognitive Functions – The Role of Brain
The brain is composed of a number of structures and the brain performs cognitive functions due to such structures. The cerebral cortex of the brain is divided by four structures/lobes i. e. the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe. These lobes play a major role in the execution of cognitive functions. Functions such as planning and decision-making are performed by the frontal lobe. The sensory information of the body is processed by the parietal lobe which is also responsible for controlling the brain’s ability in understanding language. Functions such as verbal communication, recalling events, emotional reactions and aural sensitivity are performed by the temporal lobe. The occipital lobe is responsible for cognitive functions such as recognition and differentiation of colors and visual observation. The cognitive functions in human beings are also supported by other brain structures including the sub-cortical structures (thalamus, amygdala, caudate, putamen, hippocampus, and cerebellum) that are located under the cortex (Willingham, 2007).
The function of the thalamus is to work as a communication post for motor and sensory information. This information consists of signals related to vision, somatic senses and acoustic senses. The emotions and social functions are processed by amygdala, the emotion of fear in particular. The related but separate brain structures of brain i. e. caudate and putamen are helpful in bodily movement. The memory is taken care of by the hippocampus. A number of cognitive functions that are of higher level are regulated by the cerebellum that is also responsible for control of motor skills. However, the exact role of cerebellum is still not identified. The central nervous system is composed of the spinal cord and the brain. The function of the central nervous system is the collection of collects somato-sensory information related to physical environment and matters like hotness, coldness, weight and hurt. The body muscles receive the motor information through the central nervous system (Willingham, 2007).
– The Case of Phineas Gage
Phineas Gage was a construction workman in railways. He suffered a painful and traumatic head injury when he was hit by a 3. 7 inches long tamping iron in an accident that affected his skull. According to the initial reports, both his lobes were affected by the accident. However, when CT scan of his head was done, the results confirmed that the accident had caused damage to the left lobe majorly. Even though it was a major traumatic accident, Gage was able to gain physical wellness and lived twelve years after this incidence. He later died suffering from epileptic problems.
His case enabled medical researchers to study cognitive function and the role of brain in a more comprehensive manner. The case helped in finding out that the cognitive abilities of a person (who has suffered from traumatic brain injury) can envisage functional outcomes. However, they are still not known about the extent/level of such synchronized cognitive abilities and their effects on the functional recovery magnitude (Spitz, Ponsford, Rudzki, & Maller, 2012).
Gage’s case disclosed that a traumatic brain injury (TBI) has the ability to speed up numerous changes in the functioning of the sufferer’s emotions, behavior and social skills. In some cases, sufferers have also been observed to experience problems with their memories, executive functions and the speed required to process information. Prior to the mishap, Gage was a hardworking man. However, he turned out to be rude, disturbed, and intolerant of suggestions or control after the unfortunate accident. He also acted in a stubborn manner frequently but at the same time behaved indecisively and unpredictably (Spitz, Ponsford, Rudzki, & Maller, 2012).
The particular changes in the behavior of Gage after the accident suggest that particular cognitive functions are related with certain brain areas. This study helped in the verification of the theories regarding brain and its functional localization.
To cut a long story short, there are no two opinions regarding the key role that is played by brain in the cognitive functioning. It is also important to mention that the accident of Phineas Gage made neurologists able to go back over the findings related to brain functioning in situations where emotions and cognitive skills are involved. Thus, Phineas Gage’s accident helped in the validation of the role played by brain in cognitive functioning.
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Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The Thinking Animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Print.
Spitz, G., Ponsford, J. L., Rudzki, D., & Maller, J. J. (2012). Association between Cognitive Performance and Functional Outcome Following Traumatic Brain Injury: A Longitudinal Multilevel Examination. Neuropsychology, 26(5), 604-612. Print.