Cognitive Functions of the Brain
The phrase ‘Cognitive function’ in its basic form implies the mental processes of acquiring knowledge. The cognitive functions include reasoning, perception, intuition, creativity, predictable behavior, social interaction with others and problem solving among others. According to Baars and Gage (2010), part of the brain majorly concerned with cognitive function is the cerebrum cortex. However, in as much as we can say that this is part of the brain concerned with the cognitive functions, some of which mentioned above, the brain is holistic in nature (Baars & Gage, 2010). This implies that one part of the brain (for instance the cerebrum) depends on the other, and the same way the other depends on the cerebrum. Therefore, to discuss the cognitive functions of the brain, in most instances, Phineas P. Gage’s case is usually the most appropriate case study.
Phineas P. Gage, born 1823 and one of the most famous patients in medical history, was a railway construction worker in Cavendish, a small town in Vermont. Gage rose to fame following an accident in which he suffered a traumatic brain injury, which he miraculously survived, involving a metal rod that lodged into his head through his right cheekbone (Fleischman, 2004). The almost-three-feet-long metal rod caused Gage minor blood loss, his left eye but he recovered. However, soon after recovering from the ordeal that occurred on September 13, 1848, he was no longer the Gage that people used to know. He recovered an entirely ‘new Gage’ with a drastically different personality and character (Fleischman, 2004). These were manifestations of the effect of losing part of the brain concerned with cognition, making his case an immensely popular case study in cognitive psychology and neurology.
Gage’s story prompted many research to identify the cognitive functions of the brain together with the part of the brain associated with a given functions. The overarching idea was to unravel the enigma behind the survival of Gage.
Prior to the incident, his family members, friends, and acquaintances considered him an energetic, social and a shrewd person. Gage recovered a dead unsocial being with a personality and demeanor that was certainly worrying many. It is evident that the rod destroyed the frontal lobe, which is one of the four cardinal lobes of the brain, majorly concerned with motor skills, higher-level cognition, reasoning and expressive language. Reportedly, his vision and motor skills were not affected providing an insight that the tamping rod did not touch the occipital lobe or the motor cortex. Had the rod touched the two parts of the brain, Gage would have experienced difficulty in seeing and movement.
Usually, the frontal lobe is concerned with complex behaviors (Coon, 2009: Macmillan, 2002). This lobe of the cortex is also concerned with movement as it houses the motor cortex that controls movement (Coon, 2009; Macmillan, 2002). According to Goel and Dolan (2009), injuries to this part of the brain affect an individual’s reasoning and planning abilities (as cited in Coon, 2009). Such individuals repeatedly give wrong answers to questions and can never stick to what they earlier planned. This was evident with Gage, an initially excellent foreman, turning to be a poor planner who could not stick to his plan of actions. Based on the accounts of Dr. Harlow, the horrendous accident had caused him his once admirable personality in leadership and business (Macmillan, 2002).
The association area is again another significant subsection of the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain serves the function of receiving information from the senses and controlling the body (Coon, 2009). This section of the brain receives, process, and interprets information from the sense. For instance, when someone sees a dog, it is the work of the association area to receive the stimulus and interpret it to be a ‘dog’. According to Gage’s doctor, Gage responded to light flashed in his eye. He could recognize his family members, old friends and many other things.
The temporal lobes of the brain are yet another set of pertinent lobes that form part of the cerebral cortex. The lobes situated on either side of the brain above the ears are suggestive of their function: they provide a surface where auditory impulses are registered (Coon, 2009). After Gage had recovered, it was obvious that his hearing capabilities were not impaired; a clear indication that his temporal lobes were not affected with the tamping rod that lodged into his head on that fateful day. The anterior part of the temporal lobe comprises the olfactory area concerned with smelling (Scott & Fong, 2009).
Unquestionably, Dr. Harlow’s accounts indicate that Gages vision were unaffected, which translates to the fact that his occipital lobes were intact after the incident. In his book, Coon (2009) wrote that occipital lobes located at the back of the back of the brain are the primary visual area of the brain cortex. Similarly, the parietal lobe of Gage’s brain was not affected as he not reported to have lost his sense of touch. The parietal lobe of the brain serves the purpose of receiving and interpreting information from the sensory receptors of pain, heat and cold (Scott & Fong, 2009).
After the death of Gage, many studies have been carried out on his skull and the tamping rod, which are now housed in Harvard Medical School. One astounding researcher who has since worked with Gage’s skull and the tamping rod is Dr. Domasio. Dr. Domansio used a computer program called Brainvox in his studies (Fleischman, 2004). Using Brainvox, he managed to calculate sixteen possible paths the rod could have followed in Gage’s brain. Nevertheless, according to the anatomies of Gage, nine of the paths were automatically ruled out (Fleischman, 2004). Fleischman (2004) continues to write that Dr. Dominisio knew that the rod had missed the jawbone, knocked a molar though did not destroy the socket. His studies also proved that the rod only damaged the frontal lode of the cerebral cortex, which amounted to the loss of some of his cognitive abilities. From Gage’s case, it follows that the cerebrum cortex and especially the frontal lobe is the most salient part of the brain concerned with cognition.
Baars, B. J., Gage, N. M. (2010). Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness: Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.
Coon, D. (2009). Psychology: A Journey. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning.
Fleischman, J. (2004). Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Macmillan, M. (2002). An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Scott,A. S., Fong, E. (2009). Body structures & functions. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning