Sunday, May 23, 2010

Phineas Gage news

(Photo via the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus)

This past Friday was the 150th anniversary of the death of one of psychology's all-time favorite subjects, Phineas Gage. Today in Vermont (as I learned via ScienceBlogs) the Cavendish Historical Society is holding a walking tour of famous sites related to Gage including the accident site itself, the home of Dr. Harlow (the surgeon who treated Gage) and the house that Gage was taken to after the accident.

The newsletter of the CHS published earlier this month gives some great historical background to Gage's accident, including this reference from the local newspaper on the following day:
Horrible Accident: As Phineas P. Gage, a foreman on the railroad in Cavendish, was yesterday engaged in tamping -for a blast, the powder exploded, carrying an iron instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in circumference, and three feet and eight inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron centered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw and passing back of the left eye and out at the top of the head.

The most singular circumstance connected with this melancholy affair is that he was alive at two o’clock this afternoon, and in full possession of his reason, and free from pain. Ludlow Vt. Free Soil Union Sept. 14, 1848
Also this week was a post on Mind Hacks by Vaughan Bell who found a recent journal article with more details about Gage's life after the accident. Don't just settle for "Gage was no longer Gage"; as Malcolm Macmillan and Matthew L. Lena published in Neurophysiological Rehabilitation, Gage continued to work for the twelve years following the accident, seven of them as a driver in Chile, and at one point was examined by a doctor who found "no impairment whatever." The Mind Hacks post has been updated to include a link to the actual journal article as well.

P.S. Coming this summer: a post on the top ten subjects in psychology? I'm thinking Gage, Little Albert, the Bobo doll, Piaget's three kids, Lorenz' geese, Zimbardo's prisoner #819, etc. Who would you nominate?

-- posted by Steve


Candy said...

I nominate H.M. to be included on the list of subjects. I share his obituary with my students when I teach about memory:

Anonymous said...

I think it would be cool to build a curriculum around these subjects.

Has it ever been done? If I had the writing ability, heck, I'd do it.

Must all textbooks be organized around the same topical framework?

Students are certainly fascinated by these human/animal interest stories; much more engaged from my experience than the traditional approach of presenting subject matter organized around terms, concepts and theories.

Mr. Sandler said...

Pavlov's dogs; Genie the "Wild Child"