Lobotomy facts for kids

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Lobotomies separated the prefrontal cortex (shown here in red) from the frontal lobes
View of the prefrontal cortex from the side

Lobotomy, also known as leucotomy, is a type of brain surgery. It was invented in 1935 by António Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1949 "for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses". The operation cut the connections from the pre-frontal cortex (front part of the frontal lobes) to the rest of the brain. At first it seemed a great success, but the operation is now rarely done.

He used the method for certain types of mental illness for which there was no other treatment. He first used it on patients with obsessive behaviour, which they repeated time and again. It was also used to treat other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression.

The problem with lobotomies was that they forever changed a person's personality and behaviour. Sometimes, the results were beneficial: patients which had been violent became calm. But long-term studies, which were not done by Moniz, show some had severely damaged personalities. They often had very little 'drive' and motivation.

Today, antipsychotic drugs, like chlorpromazine, may treat the symptoms of such disorders. Lobotomies are seldom done.

Social context

One question is why was such a dramatic surgical technique so widely accepted. It is generally agreed that psychiatrists wanted to find some way of helping thousands of patients in psychiatric hospitals in the twentieth century. Also, those same patients had little power to resist the increasingly radical and even reckless interventions of asylum doctors.

Lobotomy Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.