The Story of Phineas Gage

Travis DixonBiological Psychology, Criminology, General Interest

Phineas Gage standing with the pole that shot through his head.

Important Note: Phineas Gage is an interesting way to learn about the relationship between the frontal lobe and our behaviour. However, there are many other studies that we use in this course to demonstrate important concepts like localization of brain function. Therefore, Gage should not be used in exam answers.

The story…

Phineas Gage was a railroad worker who was putting dynamite into rocks while working with a team to lay tracks. As he used a six-foot bar to pound the dynamite powder into the rocks it ignited, essentially making the long steel pole a bullet that fired up through his left eye, through his skull and landed about 50ft away, covered with bits of brain and blood. Gage survived and was even conscious while he rode on the ox cart to the nearest town to get help.


Gage’s skull. You can see the whole in the skull where the metal rod went through. The skull of Phineas Gage on display at the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard Medical School.(image credit: wikicommons, Horne et al., 2012)

As a result of the incident, Gage’s behaviour seemed to change as he went from being a rather mild-mannered man to “no longer Gage” as his friends said. Reports have even said that he was no longer allowed to be around women because he would often say rude things to them. This was in 1848 and Harlow, the Doctor who treated Gage, made a few observations about the change in Gage’s behaviour that has made him one of the first and most famous cases that links brain damage to personality change.







Phineas Gage standing with the pole that shot through his head.

The following video from Harvard University’s youtube channel provides a  brief summary of the story of Phineas Gage.


The guys at Crash Course provide a good introductory video to studying the brain and behaviour.