Link Between Personality and Frontal Lobe Brain Injury?

Phineas Gage
From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus (Image laterally reversed to show the features in the correct position since daguerreotype is a mirror image)

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I am fascinated by this story: Phineas Gage-Neurosciences Most Famous Patient.  While fascinated, I am not surprised.

Phineas Gage lived in the late 1800's.   He was a railroad foreman, and as such, suffered a bizarre accident that drove a rod through his head, blinding him his left eye and destroying the part of the left frontal lobe.

Phineas was never the same after the accident. His personality and demeanor totally changed.

Once a respected foreman, who was liked by his peers, turned into a nasty ogre who used profanity, could not complete tasks, and was reduced to taking odd jobs to support himself until his death.

Once the frontal lobe is damaged, people can become violent, disorganized, easily frustrated and highly irritable.  Frontal Lobe Injury

I am not surprised by this story, as I have witnessed this in my family. This individual suffered a frontal lobe injury after running into a wall as a child.  Following the mishap, he became angry and impatient.  Similar to the personality change and description of Phineas Gage.

According to the article, once the white matter surrounding the cerebral cortex is damaged, it prevents the brain from making its' neurological connections that account for how we react to our environment.  Because the brain has been traumatized,  people effected can react inappropriately to every day stimuli.

Our family member, whom I will call "Gregg" can lose his temper over the most trivial reason.  If a cup is not put away correctly, or he receives a response from a question that he does not like, he will  lose control.    He appears to enjoy starting arguments; thinks nothing of raising his voice, or even screaming, in public.

This kind of behavior would embarrass most people.  While Gregg is aware of his short temper, and has sought help, he still is not pleasant to be around and not surprisingly, has few friends.

It is not unusual for people who engage in criminal activity to also have this disorder The Criminal Brain: Frontal Lobe Dysfunction Evidence in Capitol Proceedings.  The man in this documented case, suddenly began to read child pornography and solicit prostitutes.

 According to the case study, the individual began to have serious headaches, and after being admitted to the hospital, it was discovered he had a large tumor. Once removed, his impulses subsided.

There are many incarcerated people that have had frontal lobe injuries.  Many of them unaware of why they have strong impulses to commit crime.  For the unlucky people that suffer from Frontal Lobe Injury, medication may help but not cure them of this disorder.

Phineas Gage was the first story documented on the link between personality change and Frontal Lobe injury.  According to the article,  two thirds of  introductory psychology books mention the Phineas Gage case.

A cast of his face, his skull and the rod are housed at Harvard Medical Schools Warren Anatomical Museum.

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