As injuries to the head sometimes completely change the character of a person in a better way
Brain injuries do not always lead to an undesirable change in the character of the victim, the learned commentator of BBC Future. It happens that the character is improving. But should we rejoice?
In the popular 1980s romantic Comedy «overboard», the main character, arrogant and selfish billionaire who falls overboard his luxury yacht and received a head injury, loses his memory. In addition, changes for the better her character — she becomes a caring, thoughtful and not as materialistic as before.
At first glance, these positive changes triggered by trauma to the brain, seem far-fetched, isn’t it? However, let’s take a real case. The woman (let’s call it for ethical reasons, «patient 3534») at the age of 70 years was removed a brain tumor. In this case, the operation had damaged the frontal lobe of her brain.
According to her husband, who knew his wife of 58 years, before the surgery, she was irritable and grumpy, with a hard character. After the surgery, «she became more outgoing, more satisfied with life and much more talkative».
Patient 3534 — not the only one whose personality changed after a brain injury. Now we have proof that (at least for a small portion of patients) positive change in character is reality. And this is the kind of revelation that allows for a fresh look at how brain injuries affect personality.
Although the fact that brain injury can change a person’s character, has long been known, the scientific literature almost always described particularly disastrous for the individual effects. Take the famous case of Phineas gage, an American Builder, received in 1848 a severe wound of the brain in the construction of the railroad.
Gage led the team to the bombers. In case of accidental explosion of scrap metal went into the skull of a gage under the left eye socket and exited just above his forehead. Injured Builder lost most of the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere of the brain.
As they used to say friends of the victim, «it’s no longer gage». After the incident, he just became a different person: a previously smart and insightful, gage became aggressive and impulsive, his psyche has changed radically (though, according to some accounts, later, gage was able to overcome these problems, started a new life — a stagecoach coachman and lived another 12 years).
In the modern medical literature describes many such cases, when patients after damage to the frontal lobes of the brain began to behave inappropriately and even psychotically. However, according to a recent study published in the journal neuropsychologia is such sad circumstances, may not convey a complete picture.
A group of scientists under the supervision of a psychiatrist Marcy king from the University of Iowa found that of the 97 before healthy patients who have received irreversible damage to a certain part of the brain, with 22 observed positive changes in character. 54 man character got corrupted, and the rest any change is not seen. Scientists have found that, after interviewing relatives and friends of victims on 26 different aspects of the individual — before and after injury.
I must admit that in the past some studies have indirectly pointed to the fact that damaging certain parts of the brain can sometimes have a positive personality effect.
For example, an American study of 2007, which have been studied veterans of the Vietnam war found that those who received damage to parts of the brain, which are believed to be responsible for the development of PTSD, this disorder was developed with a lower probability.
A similar study found that patients with damage to parts of the brain, responsible for emotions, the result was less susceptible to depression.
And yet the latest research, we’re talking about, so for the first time documented a range of positive changes in the nature of a large group of patients.
As another example, we present the case of «patient 2410», 30-year-old man, which was needed the surgical operation in connection with an aneurysm of the brain. He and his wife described that before the operation the man was hot-tempered, easily lost his temper and was prone to depression. After surgery, he makes a lot of jokes and laughs and generally became more relaxed.
What happens? How does brain damage have such an unexpected effect?
The likelihood that the nature of the patient changes for the better, does not depend on gender, age, level of education or intelligence. What matters is still personal problems: difficult character, temper and other negative traits in combination with specific brain damage.
To understand this, king and her colleagues have produced brain scans of all their patients. They found that those who observed positive change of character, with more likely to suffer from damage to the frontal lobes (sites involved in decision-making processes and understanding the perspective of other people).
These results, however, are very preliminary, and the authors of the studies urge caution in their interpretation.
Scientists have discovered that only the General trends and further work will help to more accurately determine which areas of the brain are associated with specific changes in human nature. In addition, although the change in personality of some patients can be regarded as positive, we should not belittle the danger of any brain damage.
Full recovery after serious brain injury is extremely rare, and even when the patient seems to be feeling OK, he may sooner or later be faced with the underlying problem — for example, difficulties in the assimilation of new information.
The resulting brain injury can also make a person more vulnerable to various neurological diseases, including very heavy. Thus, it is surprising that such a dangerous thing as brain damage that can lead to favorable changes.
However, when you realize that brain surgery is sometimes used as a last resort for the treatment of such psychiatric disorders as obsessive-compulsive, it doesn’t look too ridiculous or strange.
There can, of course, to remember the now-banned in most countries so-called psychosurgery, a very controversial method of treatment. Many of us know about her private case of lobotomy with massive tissue destruction, is widely used in the mid-twentieth century in the United States.
However, king and her colleagues stress that modern technologies allow surgeons to operate much more cautiously and accurately, and often the goal of such interventions is to reduce the activity of those brain currents that cause certain mental problems (for example, there is evidence that depression is associated with too active exchange between the frontal areas of the brain and other neural networks responsible for cognition and emotions).
What surgical intervention you can adjust the human brain in some way explain why brain injury in some cases lead to a beneficial change in the character of the victim. In addition, the results of the research, king and her colleagues help better understand the neurological basis of human nature.
However, in conclusion it is worth repeating: to any brain injury (including to the «light» concussion) should always be treated with great seriousness. Even in the infrequent cases of positive changes after trauma the clinical picture almost always includes a lot of hidden until the time of problems for the patient.
Although the positive change in character is a good thing, let’s not forget that our character reflects our essence. To get used to the fact that the person has changed — even for the better, — it will be difficult for friends and loved ones, and for the man.
In any case, what happens with the brain and personality after the injury, is much more complicated and more surprising than we previously imagined.