UCLA Lobotomies & Mental Illness Discussion


Our textbook emphasizes the specialized research methods for studying the brain and the importance of recognizing that psychology is empirical (grounded in data – in observations that can be verified by others). Many of the tools for studying the brain are relatively new. Remember that Psychology evolves in a socio-historical context. For thousands of years, people believed that evil spirits caused abnormal behaviour, so those spirits had to be released by drilling holes in the person’s skull. We can understand how this “treatment” was a product of its time and of people’s beliefs about the inner workings of the spirit and the brain. Phrenology is a more recent attempt to understand the workings of the brain. Phrenology flourished in the early part of the 20th century, as phrenologists “read” the bumps and depressions in people’s skulls. Armed with a “map,” phrenologists interpreted people’s personalities. 

A more recent method to treat mental illness is transorbital lobotomy. According to Shutts (1982), about 40,000 people underwent lobotomies in the 1940s and 1950s. It seems like a long time ago (in some ways, it is), and it reflects a lack of understanding of basic brain functioning. You probably know more about the brain than many of the people who performed lobotomies; they did so by inserting a thin rod between the person’s eyeball and the eye socket bone until it reached the prefrontal area of the brain. This procedure was often not conducted in hospitals but rather in people’s homes. Walter Freeman became famous for carrying his equipment in his car, referred to as the “lobotomobile.” Used first on intractable schizophrenics, the operation soon spread and was used on a variety of patients. Lobotomies did seem to calm some schizophrenics, but the results were often disappointing. People who had a lobotomy often displayed apathy, an inability to plan and take initiative, memory disorders, distractability, generally blunted emotions, a loss of facial expression, and a loss of social inhibitions. Take a look at this: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-15629160

It is important that any intervention be grounded in empirical scientific research. Suppose an experienced neurosurgeon proposed “I have a lot of experience with brain surgery. I think that lobotomies could help people with severe mental disorders that resist treatment. I can do it”. What are some research ethics issues that should be considered? Put yourself in the shoes of the desperate person, wanting relief. What should you know to make an informed decision? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Write 4-5 sentences that tackle these questions (and submit them). Then, please respond to at least one other classmate’s post (4-6 sentences, minimum). Remember that you’ll need to make a posting before you can see what your colleagues in the class have written. The goals for this discussion are 1) to research and ethical issues in this context 2) apply what you learned in the text and online learning modules, and 3) connect with your classmates.

I hope you enjoy this! Please be sure to submit your postings before midnight (AST) on Sunday, May 24

respond to peer:

Many people find themselves willing and wanting to do anything to cure their mental illness. I myself suffer from generalized anxiety and there are days I wish someone could physically alter my brain to just stop being anxious but it clearly does not work that way. Lobotomies are obviously not practiced for a reason anymore, and there are other ways of helping mental disorders. Obviously there are some ethics when it comes to a surgical procedure like a lobotomy, is the person in the right mind to even agree to the medical procedure? Are there long term damages the patient should be aware of? The patient should be informed as to how the lobotomy works and what tools are used for the procedure. The procedure involves drilling holes into the skull and pushing another tool into those holes into the brain in order to cut neurons that were believed to be causing the mental issues, the procedure does not take long, only about 5 minutes, but is this truly worth it? Some people were found to be worse off after the lobotomy, and they were completely ruined as social humans according to the BBC article. Many people found that they were completely apathetic, having no feelings or interests. Basically, people became emotionally numb which can sometimes feel worse than feeling too many emotions. Therefore if a neurosurgeon came to me and said they could treat my anxiety with a lobotomy, I would choose not too. Although living with anxiety can be difficult at times I would rather still feel normal emotions than become apathetic. I personally believe the benefits do not outweigh the risks because there is the possibility of other damage that could be done while inserting the tools for the lobotomy. In the BBC article, a lady even said that she experienced incontinence after the procedure. There are physical symptoms that could happen after a lobotomy that would not be worth the risk, especially now where we have drugs and doctors who can help with mental health issues. The damage from a lobotomy can be irreversible and some patients did not even find it did much for them in regards to their mental health, therefore taking the risk o