The Cortical Responses

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The victim of an accident while working on a railroad in 1848, Phineas Gage had a large iron rod impaled through the prefrontal cortex of his frontal lobe. After the accident, his personality appeared to change, but he eventually learned to cope with the trauma and lived as a coach driver even after such a traumatic event. (credit b: John M. Harlow, MD)

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Let’s start with sensory stimuli that have been registered through receptor cells and the information relayed to the CNS along ascending pathways. In the cerebral cortex, the initial processing of sensory perception progresses to associative processing and then integration in multimodal areas of cortex. These levels of processing can lead to the incorporation of sensory perceptions into memory, but more importantly, they lead to a response. The completion of cortical processing through the primary, associative, and integrative sensory areas initiates a similar progression of motor processing, usually in different cortical areas.

Whereas the sensory cortical areas are located in the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes, motor functions are largely controlled by the frontal lobe. The most anterior regions of the frontal lobe—the prefrontal areas—are important for executive functions, which are those cognitive functions that lead to goal-directed behaviors. These higher cognitive processes include working memory, which has been called a “mental scratch pad,” that can help organize and represent information that is not in the immediate environment. The prefrontal lobe is responsible for aspects of attention, such as inhibiting distracting thoughts and actions so that a person can focus on a goal and direct behavior toward achieving that goal.

The functions of the prefrontal cortex are integral to the personality of an individual, because it is largely responsible for what a person intends to do and how they accomplish those plans. A famous case of damage to the prefrontal cortex is that of Phineas Gage, dating back to 1848. He was a railroad worker who had a metal spike impale his prefrontal cortex. He survived the accident, but according to second-hand accounts, his personality changed drastically.

Friends described him as no longer acting like himself. Whereas he was a hardworking, amiable man before the accident, he turned into an irritable, temperamental, and lazy man after the accident. Many of the accounts of his change may have been inflated in the retelling, and some behavior was likely attributable to alcohol used as a pain medication. However, the accounts suggest that some aspects of his personality did change. Also, there is new evidence that though his life changed dramatically, he was able to become a functioning stagecoach driver, suggesting that the brain has the ability to recover even from major trauma such as this.

Source:

Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology

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