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3.1.2: Lesion Method

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    In the lesion method, patients with brain damage are examined to determine which brain structures are damaged and how this influences the patient's behavior. Researchers attempt to correlate a specific brain area to an observed behavior by using reported experiences and research observations. Researchers may conclude that the loss of functionality in a brain region causes behavioral changes or deficits in task performance. For example, a patient with a lesion in the parietal-temporal-occipital association area will exhibit agraphia, a condition in which he/she is not able to write, despite having no deficits in motor ability. If damage to a particular brain region (structure X) is shown to correlate with a specific change in behavior (behavior Y), researchers may deduce that structure X has a relation to behavior Y.

    In humans, lesions are most often caused by tumors or strokes. Through current brain imaging technologies, it is possible to determine which area was damaged during a stroke. Loss of function in the stroke victim may then be correlated with that damaged brain area. While lesion studies in humans have provided key insights into brain organization and function, lesions studies in animals offer many advantages.

    First, animals used in research are reared in controlled environmental conditions that limit variability between subjects. Secondly, researchers are able to measure task performance in the same animal, before and after a lesion. This allows for within-subject comparison. And third the control groups can be watched who either did not undergo surgery or who did have surgery in another brain area. These benefits also increase the accuracy of the hypothesis being tested which is more difficult in human research because the before-after comparison and control experiments drop out.


    Visualization of iron rod passing through brain of Phineas Gage

    To strengthen conclusions regarding a brain area and task performance, researchers may perform double dissociation. The goal of this method is to prove that two dissociations are independent. Through comparison of two patients with differing brain damage and contradictory disease patterns, researchers may localize different behaviors to each brain area. Broca's area is a region of the brain is responsible for language processing, comprehension and speech production. Patients with a lesion in Broca's area will exhibit Broca's aphasia or non-fluent aphasia. These patients are unable to speak fluently; a sentence produced by a patient with damage to the Broca's area may sound like: "I ... er ... wanted ... ah ... well ... I ... wanted to ... er ... go surfing ... and ... well...". On the other hand, Wernicke's area is responsible for speech comprehension. A patient with a lesion in this area has Wernicke's aphasia. They may be able to produce language, but lack the ability to produce meaningful sentences. Patients may produce 'word salad': " I then did this chingo for some hours after my dazi went through meek and been sharko". Patients with Wernicke's aphasia are often unaware of speech deficits and may believe that they are speaking properly.

    Certainly one of the famous "lesion" cases was that of Phineas Gage. On 13 September 1848 Gage, a railroad construction foreman, was using an iron rod to tamp an explosive charge into a body of rock when premature explosion of the charge blew the rod through his left jaw and out the top of his head. Miraculously, Gage survived, but reportedly underwent a dramatic personality change as a result of destruction of one or both of his frontal lobes. The uniqueness of Gage case (and the ethical impossibility of repeating the treatment in other patients) makes it difficult to draw generalizations from it, but it does illustrate the core idea behind the lesion method. Further problems stem from the persistent distortions in published accounts of Gage—see the Wikipedia article Phineas Gage.

    3.1.2: Lesion Method is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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