I have been posting to this blog items and information I come across regarding Traumatic Brain Injury.  While reading professional journals, articles, and Scientific literature, I share things of interest.  One of those topics includes the unique and rare situation where a concussion can actually cause the brain to exhibit genius level processing.  (Of course that does not take away from the other negative signs, symptoms, and consequences of traumatic brain injury) Think of the popular movie Rainman.  A concussion or stroke does not usually enhance cognitive ability.

Darold Treffert, a physician who has studied savantism for many years, has chronicled the ways that people with no artistic interest or talent can suddenly develop a passion for painting or music after experiencing head trauma or other types of brain insult.

Recently, in the August 2014 issue of Scientific American, an article entitled  Accidental Genius was published. The articles talks about Jason Padgett who suffered a “severe head injury.” As a consequence, he was able to visualize and draw intricate geometrical shapes. He went on to develop a passion for math, physics, and drawing geometric shapes after he sustained a concussion following an assault.  Previously math-adverse, college dropout, Padgett now takes advance courses in math to better understand the geometric shapes he can draw.

Other case studies include:

  • Tommy McHugh – at 51, and with no particular interest in poetry, he suffered a hemorrhage in the lining of the skull. After the injury he went on to fill notebooks with poems.
  • Orlando Serrel – was knocked out by a baseball and developed a skill of doing calendar calculations.  He could determine the day of the week of any day since the injury occured.  He also recalls the weather everyday since his injury.
  • Derek Amato – 40 year old corporate trainer with no special interest in music, dove into the shallow end of a pool and sustained a severe concussion.  Following his discharge from the hospital, he became inexplicably drawn to the piano.
  • Tony Cicoria – orthopedic surgeon was hit by lightning and resuscitated by a nurse. He developed a consuming obsession with classical music after previously having no interest in that kind of music.
Lobes of the brain

Lobes of the brain

Neurologist, Bruce Miller, of the University of California, San Francisco, has been studying FTD.  FTD stands for frontal temporal dementia. It differs from Alzheimer’s dementia in that the degenerative process affects only the frontal lobes and not wider areas of the brain.

Researchers would like to unlock the key to obtaining acquired savantism, without the concussion.   How to bring out the inner-savant?   Various diagnostic tests including DTI, (diffuse tensor imaging), and DTT (Diffuse Tensor Tracking), as well as PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and NIRS (Near Infrared Spectroscopy) are able to capture brain activity during the carrying out of creative tasks.

The question is whether these studies are worth pursuing.

Acquired savantism provides strong evidence that a deep well of brain potential resides within all of us.  The challenge now is to find the best ways to tap into our inner savant – that little bit of Rain Man – while keeping the rest of our mental facilities intact.