Psychology’s greatest case studies

BBC Radio 4 have just broadcast a fantastic new radio series called Case Study that looks at some of the most influential, and most remarkable, case studies in the history of psychology.

The most recent edition was on the famous case of Phineas Gage, the 19th century American railway worker who had a 6 foot tamping iron shoot through his head during a railroad construction accident.

Gage’s job was to clear boulders by drilling holes in them, filling the hole with gunpowder, and tamping the charge down with a large iron bar.

If ever there was an accident waiting to happen, this was it, and lo and behold, the iron bar sparked on the rock, igniting the charge and firing the metal rod through his frontal lobes.

The rest, they say, is history. Or rather, is one of the histories, as there are many legends and stories surrounding his life which turn out to be less than reliable.

The programme looks at the known facts, the speculation, and the huge impact of the case on the development of neuroscience, which had never known a patient with such damage to the frontal lobes who had survived before.

The other programmes are equally as interesting, one edition covers the story of the ‘Wild Boy of Aveyron’ who largely grew up in the woods without any human contact, while another edition tackles the case of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was murdered apparently in full sight of bystanders who failed to intervene.

Needless to say, influential cases attract influential myths and psychologists’ favourite ‘fireside stories’ of what occurred don’t always match the known facts.

The series is presented by Claudia Hammond, who also presented the excellent Mind Changes series about influential psychologists, and who will be presenting the upcoming series of BBC All in the Mind.

Thanks to Tenyen for letting me know about the series, although I notice I was pre-empted by Neurophilosophy.

Link to programme on Phineas Gage.
Link to programme on The Wild Boy of Aveyron.
Link to programme to Kitty Genovese.

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