The Personality and the Brain
Neurobiology and Behavior
Second Web Paper
Personality and the Brain
Lobotomy, preformed mostly during the earlier half of the 20th century, was a form of phychosurgery in which surgeons would scrape at the frontal lobes of the brain through various surgical methods. The idea behind these surgeries was that the nerves in the frontal lobe of the brain were somehow damaged or malformed, and this led to various problems from mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, to something as physical as back pain (About.) Neurosurgeons believed that by scraping at these damaged or malformed frontal lobes, they would regenerate to a healthier state (About.) The neurosurgeons then thought that once these frontal lobes healed, the patient would no longer experience any of the problems caused by the malformation (About.) Besides the problematic ethics performing lobotomies, the results themselves proved problematic. None of the patients that underwent lobotomy showed signs of improvement from their symptoms. Instead, they underwent radical changes in behaviors and attitudes, such as extreme passivity, which surgeons interpreted as improvements. Through lobotomy, neurosurgeons began to understand how certain parts of the brain worked, and the effects of altering the brain, and therefore establishing the connection between the physical brain and the personality.
The first lobotomy occurred around 1890, when Friedrich Golz, a German scientist, removed portions of his dogs temporal lobes and found them to be less aggressive and calmer (Boeree.) This new form of phychosurgery was followed by surgeries conducted by Gottleib Burkhardt, head of a Swiss mental institution, on six of his schizophrenic patients (Boerre.) Some of Burkhardt patients became calmer as a result of the surgeries, and were therefore considered "cured", even though two of his patients died form complications that resulted from the surgeries (Boerre.) Another surgeon, Antonio Egaz Moniz, popularized the use of lobotomy as a means of helping patients with mental illnesses (Boerre.) In his research on lobotomies, Moniz found that cutting the nerves that run from the frontal cortex to the thalamus ended constant repetitive thoughts experienced by mental patients (Boerre.) From Moniz's research, lobotomy became more and more respected and used in dealing with mental patients. By 1949, Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on lobotomy (Boerre.)
In the US, Walter Freeman, an American physician, became so satisfied with the results of his lobotomy surgeries that he went on to do many thousands more and began a campaign to promote its use (Boerre.) Freeman recommended the procedure for everything from psychosis to depression to neurosis to criminality (Boerre.) He invented a particular method of lobotomy called the ice pick lobotomy (Boerre.) Impatient with the period's surgical methods, Freeman found that he could, with only local anesthetic, insert an ice pick above each eye of a patient, drive it through thin bone, which divides the brain from the optical nerves, with a light tap of a mallet, and swish the pick back and forth like a windshield wiper (Boerre.) Freeman's procedure made lobotomy easier to conduct and as a result, lobotomy became more popular. Between 1939 and 1951, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the US. By the 1950s, people began protesting against the prevalence of lobotomies, and newer research at time questioned the merits of the procedure. The general statistics provided by the research at the time showed that roughly a third of lobotomy patients improved, a third stayed the same, and the last third actually got worse (Boerre.) By the end of the 1950's, doctors no longer saw lobotomy as a legitimate response to mental illness.
Although lobotomy was horrible, it does provide clues about the relationship between the brain and personality. The research concerning the results of lobotomy found that 2/3 of the patients experienced changes in their personality. The importance of the frontal lobes of the brain in relation to our personalities becomes noticeable in the effects of a lobotomy. Some of the changes that occurred involved thinking processes. Researchers found that some patients that underwent lobotomies were slowed in thinking and acting, became dull, lacked at times complete emotional expression, showed a reduction in interest, and loss in driving energy (Dewey.) Other patients were found to be the opposite, they were uninhibited and euphoric (Dewey.) However, a common trait that researchers did find was that the patients pursued immediate gratification without regard for consequences. This in turn lead to many of the patients becoming fat. If food was set in front of them, they ate whether they were hungry or not. Another common effect that the researchers recorded were that few of the lobotomy patients could plan effectively for the future or sustain goal-oriented activities. A goal requires that complicated plans be created, and this was beyond the capacity of most lobotomy patients, who tended to be distracted by immediate stimuli. Interference with the frontal lobes of the brain led to all of these drastic changes to occur in the patients, which changed their thinking patterns and personalities. Physical damage to the brain, in turn alters (or damages) non-tangible characteristics such as personalities. A starking example of an alteration that occurred after lobotomy comes from Sweden. Dr. Gosta Rylander of Stockholm described a patient who he employed as a cook after the patient recovered from a prefrontal lobotomy. Prior to the surgery, the patient was very innovative in the kitchen, but after the operation she began to display difficulty in using new recipes and made ridiculous mistakes while cooking. When going out to buy food, the patient frequently disappeared for long periods, distracted by shop windows and often forgetting to buy the food.
The effects on the patients appear to suggest that reduction of brain tissue, and number of neural circuits, is responsible for the effects of lobotomies. It seems possible that one requires a certain number of healthy, unaltered brain nerves to conjure abstract, intangible things like goals, morals, intentions to diet, or even intentions to buy food. Other research also points to the conclusion that neurological effects of lobotomies are caused not only by damage to the frontal lobes but also damage of large amounts of brain tissue almost anywhere in the brain. Lobotomies provided evidence that there was something special about the frontal lobes of the brain. CAT scans have shown that the frontal lobes of the brain are activated when people exercise will power, make plans, or do creative thinking. Our physical state of our brain is important to other aspects of our selves, such as personality. Patients of lobotomy highlight this connection between the brain and the self.
"About Lobotomy." http://www.psychosurgery.org/about-lobotomy/ 3/20/10.
Boerre, George. "A Brief History of Lobotomy." 2001. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/lobotomy.html 3/20/10.
Dewey, Ross. "The Effects of Lobotomy." 2007. http://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch02_human_nervous_system/lobotomy_effects.html 3/20/10.