In the classic 80s rom-com Overboard, Goldie Hawn’s spoilt, selfish character suffers a brain injury in a yachting accident. As well as causing memory loss, the accident transforms her personality in positive ways – she becomes caring and considerate and less materialistic.
That a brain injury could lead to this kind of personality change may sound far-fetched, but consider the real-life “Patient 3534”, a woman who had a brain tumour removed at the age of 70, leaving damage to the front of both sides of her brain. According to her husband, who’d known her for 58 years, before her surgery she had a “stern” personality, was highly irritable and grumpy. After the brain surgery, he said that she was “happier, more outgoing, and more talkative than ever before”.
Patient 3534 is not the only one with such a change. There is now evidence that, at least for a minority of patients, beneficial personality changes are a reality, a revelation that is bound to prompt a new perspective on the impact brain damage has on personality.