Phineas and the Frontal Lobe
Friday, June 26, 2015
The importance and power of the frontal lobe in the decision-making process cannot be underestimated. This is dramatically illustrated in the tragic story of Phineas Gage, a railroad foreman. Phineas was working with a tapping iron when the powder underneath exploded, launching the tapping iron through Phineas’ head. The iron entered first below his left cheek-bone and then exited through the top of his skull, landing 25 to 30 yards behind him.
Before the accident, Phineas was known for his high morals and exemplary record as a railroad foreman; after the accident, his moral decline was immediately evident. He became overly emotional and overtly angry. Phineas lost interest in spiritual things, constantly used profanity and lost respect for social norms and customs.
Dr. John Harlow, his physician, stated that the accident destroyed Phineas’ “equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculty and his animal propensities.” Phineas’ traumatic frontal lobotomy cost him his personality, his moral standards, and his commitment to family, church and loved ones.17-19
The frontal lobe helps set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is this gift that gives us the ability to choose. It is, in many ways, the power center. It is the seat of our will/choice and it is also the seat of our judgment, reasoning, social norms, long-term planning,20-23 all of which help us make healthy, life giving choices.
The story of Phineas Gage shows how a compromised frontal lobe can change personality. These changes may be minimal at first but, accumulated over time, they can become a significant life-changing factor.
Can you see how these effects can be devastating to your happiness? Deterioration of the frontal lobe can negatively affect you emotionally, socially, financially, spiritually and in every other facet of life.