The Brain and Cognitive Functioning

The Brain and Cognitive Functioning Jessica Johnson PSY 360 March 11, 2013 Donna M. Glover-Rogers, Ph. D The Brain and Cognitive Functioning The following describes the role of the brain and the impact it has on a person’s cognitive functions, including how injury to certain part of the brain can affect specific cognitive functions while leaving others intact. To support this idea we look at the case of Phinneas Gage, and how his brain injury affected his cognitive abilities. In order to understand what role the brain plays in cognitive functioning one must understand cognitive functioning and what it is.
Cognitive functioning refers to a person’s ability to coordinate thought and action as well as the ability to direct it towards a goal. It is needed to overcome environmental obstacles, orchestrate plans and execute complex sequences of behavior. When a person thinks, gives their attention to something, has or feels some kind of emotion, makes a plan, learns a new task or information, or recalls a memory they are using their cognitive functioning all of which starts in the brain. As the world has progressed so has science and technology; as theses fields have grown so has the ability to learn about the brain and how it works.
Today we know that the brain is made up of millions small parts all working together to serve a final outcome. However technology is not the only thing that assists researchers in the study of the brain; people who have suffered traumatic brain injury have equally aided scientist in understanding how the brain functions. One of the most remarkable examples of the impact a brain injury can have on a person’s life is that of Phinneas Gage. This case proves to be one of the first to confirm that damage to a person’s frontal cortex could result in a significant personality change despite other neurological functions remain intact.

In September of 1848 an accidental explosion caused a 20 pound iron rod from the railroad tracks to penetrate Gage’s Left cheek bone and exiting just behind his right temple (BSCS 2005). To everyone’s shock Gage never lost consciousness through the injury; however, the injuries to his brain caused a complete change in personality. Prior to the accident Gage was reported to be calm and collected man. He was said to be very level-headed and it was reported by his supervisors that his calm demeanor made him the best foremen on his team. The trauma to Gage’s brain caused a severe and unpleasant change in his character.
Upon recovering and returning to work he was said to be highly volatile, full of rage, impatient and vulgar. Despite making a full physical recovery his behavior made such a negative change he was never able to work as a foreman again. Gage’s case was one of the first and often considered the most dramatic cases of personality change caused by brain injury that has ever been documented. The injuries that Gage sustained to his brain raised several questions about the impact the brain has on cognitive functioning. It has become clear that a common side-effect of frontal lobe damage is drastic change in one’s behavior.
An individual’s personality can significantly alter after damage to the frontal lobes, particularly when both lobes are involved (Hernandez, 2008). Many important things were learned from Gage’s life altering accident, first and possibly most important it shows that not every brain injury will cause death. In addition researchers learned that not all brain injuries will cause loss to all brain functions (2008). Although being over 100 years old the injury Phineas Gage suffered to his brain is still known as one of the most educational injuries in history.
Not only did it prove one could survive such a traumatic injury to the brain but it proved they could still function physically and mentally. This case was also the first to prove that the frontal cortex of the brain directly impacts personality, and although one could recover to physically function as they had before the altered personality may never change. Along with cases like Phinneas Gage, advancements in technology have given researchers a picture of how the brain controls cognitive functioning but to what extent remains unclear.
References Hernandez, Christina. (2008). Phineas Gage. Retrieved March 08, 2013 from http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/831073/phineas_gage_pg3. html? cat=4 National Institue of Health Office of Science Education BSCS (2005). Retrieved March 07, 2013 from http://science. education. nih. gov/supplements/nih4/self/guide/info-brain. htm Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Retrieved from Ebsco Host

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