It seems the unusual outcomes of damage to the brain receive a good deal of attention in media coverage.
Unusual outcomes of brain injury such as a person developing artistic talents or becoming a genius at mathematics, seem to grab headlines more than day to day life for people living with brain injury.
Mostly these outcomes are rare. Can this media coverage be helpful?
Before I go on -if you have not seen articles about people living with unusual outcomes – here are a couple of examples :
This article “Stroke of Genius: 10 Abilities Borne of Brain Damage” describes 10 people who developed a significant new ability after brain injury
And here “10 Fascinating People With Savant Syndrome” You might notice some of the people in each article are the same I found this quite common.
And still more. This article with illustrations “6 People Who Gained Amazing Skills From Brain Injuries” I began collecting such articles and as I read them they reinforced for me what an amazing organ our brain is.
What Does Looking at the Unusual Outcomes of Brain Injury Remind Us?
So why am I talking about it today? Joining the sensationalists?
It is another way to present and to develop some key understandings about the brain and brain injury:
- People living with brain injury do not always see the outcomes of brain injury as bad. Sometimes the damage itself can create postive outcomes.
- Outcomes of brain injury are NOT DELIBERATE behaviours. It is as a result of the damage to brain cells.
- We can learn more about the brain and brain injury in an interesting way. The articles usually carry a bit of information about the brain and brain function. I read a series of articles in the National Geographic magazine entitled “Beyond the Brain” which talked about unusual outcomes and included information about the brain and its function.
- A reminder that the brain controls EVERYTHING we do and that ANYTHING we do can be affected.
- No matter how strange, or different, it might seem – any outcome is possible whatever the cause of the brain injury .
- I know I keep going on about it – the brain is one astounding, fascinating organ.
- These media articles do engage people who might otherwise not know about brain injury.
Movies are made (think ‘Rain Man’). News coverage is prolific -a small selection is included today.
One explanation of how this happens is that damage to the temporal region at the front of the brain might somehow enable us to shine at new skills.
No I would not recommend knocking out your fronto-temporal lobe to become a genius!
Eureka! When a Blow to the Head Creates a Sudden Genius This article in the Atlanta Times describes studies into how this might happen and gives examples of people experiencing unusual outcomes. While ignored at first Dr Bruce Miller, a neurologist in San Francisco, discovered ‘savant’ skills in people who had a Fronto-temporal dementia. This type of dementia affects particularly the left temporal region of the brain (located over the left ear).
Researchers from the Flinders University in Adelaide were also able to elicit new savant skills in volunteers by temporarily stopping the frontal temporal lobe from functioning.
One interesting hypothesis is that these savant abilities may be lying dormant in all of us. Still no reason to think about knocking of your fronto-temporal lobe me thinks.
Not sure I would want to do it even temporarily. Though in this article “Savant for a Day” Lawrence Osborne explains the theory and gives a personal account of rapidly increasing his drawing skills after having electromagnetic stimuli to his frontal lobe.
“A Beautiful Mind: Brain Injury Turns Man Into Math Genius” is one of many articles written about Jason Padgett who became expert at maths after a brain injury and wrote of his experience.
I read about Alice Flaherty in a National Geographic magazine accompanied by photographs of her prolific writing on walls and all surrounding surfaces.
“On any given morning Alice Flaherty, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is writing at her computer by 4:30 a.m. During the day she may also write on scrap paper, toilet paper, her surgical scrubs, and if nothing else is handy, on her own skin. Some of her best ideas come when she’s in the shower, so she keeps a waxed pencil there and writes on the walls. She also has a pen attached to her bicycle, just in case the muse hits her in mid-pedal stroke.” James Shreeve National Geographic.
While rare hypergraphia also finds itself popular online.
Hypergraphia is visually represented on Prezi in Hypergraphia the Writing Sickness. This display includes lists of possible causes and further references. Warning it is a bit flickery and jumpy if you have trouble with flashing movement.
James Wannerton can taste words and has been featured in many articles. Here with a map of the London Underground system he describes the tastes of each. A fun and interesting use of synaesthesia.
Daniel Tammet has written a book about Synaesthesia. Synesthesia and the Poetry of Numbers by Daniel Tammet discussed here by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings (a favourite read of mine) Popova talks about Synaesthesia. Again Daniel Tammet is featured in number of media articles.
Newsworthy Unusual Outcomes Brain Injury
What other unusual outcomes do you find talked about in media articles?
The following are a small selection of outcomes reported in news media. Alternatively try an internet search yourself and see what you find.
Mathematical skill: The Toronto Star reviews ‘How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel’ by Jason Padgett. Talking about a brain injury that made him a whiz at mathematics.
Foreign accent: The online MetroNews reports Sarah Colwin, a woman who had a stroke developed a Chinese sounding accent.
Uncontrolled emotions: Brandpoint – a site providing content for media shares this article about Delanie Wilson who after a stroke found she would laugh or cry, often at inappropriate times, and had no control over this. “Uncontrollable Laughing and Crying a Stroke Survivors Unexpected Diagnosis”.
Speaking another language: Daily News New York reported a young Australian man who awoke from a coma speaking Mandarin and now uses this talent on a television show.
Developing artistic skills: “Woman Develops Remarkable Ability to Draw After Suffering a Brain Injury”
Musical talent: The Huffington Post writes about Derek Amato who after brain injury discovered musical talents.
So – is it sensationalism? Or is it fascination with all things brain related. Does it matter?
Maybe it is that these stories capture our imagination. They stir our curiousity. How can this happen we ask?
While I think these articles are disproportionately reported – something I have now added to! I believe media coverage of unusual outcomes brain injury can teach us more about the brain, and brain injury. For most of us they do it in a way that is more interesting than a text book.
Also I have found they are also conversation starters when people want to understand more. Or teaching tools when people ask “What about this article I read?”
What do you think?
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