The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a new video on the history of lobotomy, First, Do No Harm. As Retro Report describes,
For centuries scientists have studied the brain and still our understanding, particularly when it comes to the treatment for those suffering with severe, often untreatable mental illness, remains elusive. As scientists around the world are beginning ambitious programs to study the human brain in unprecedented ways, Retro Report explores the evolution of the surgical and biological treatments over the decades. From the brutal, but once considered mainstream treatment of lobotomy to biological cocktails, to the beginnings of what many hope will be a more elegant understanding of the brain through technology.
The May 2015 issue of History of Psychology (vol 18, issue 2) is now available (find online here), and is chock-full of interesting content. From analyses exploring the materiality of psychological and psychiatric instruments (including the Cattell Infant Intelligence Scale, the ‘Utica Crib,’ and the controversial transorbital ice pick lobotomy instrument introduced by Walter Freeman), to historiographic discussions (about how to further internationalize the practice of the history of psychology in North America, and about the necessity of attention to multiple temporalities and contexts within the history of psychology in Brazil), there’s a little something for everyone.
The abstracts read as follows:
Test or toy? Materiality and the measurement of infant intelligence.
By: Young, Jacy L.
Adopting a material culture perspective, this article interrogates the composition of the copy of the Cattell Infant Intelligence Scale housed at the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection. As a deliberately assembled collection of toys, the Cattell Scale makes clear the indefinite boundary between test and toy in 20th-century American psychology. Consideration of the current condition of some of the material constituents of this particular Cattell Scale provides valuable insight into some of the elusive practices of intelligence testers in situ and highlights the dynamic nature of the testing process. At the same time, attending to the materiality of this intelligence test reveals some of the more general assumptions about the nature of intelligence inherent in tests for young children. The scale and others like it, I argue, exposes psychologists’ often-uncritical equation of childhood intelligence with appropriate play undertaken with an appropriate toy, an approach complicit in, and fostered by, midcentury efforts to cultivate particular forms of selfhood. This analysis serves as an example of the kind of work that may be done on the history of intelligence testing when the material objects that were (and are) inherently a part of the testing process are included in historical scholarship.
The January 2014 issue of The Psychologist, the flagship publication of the British Psychological Society (BPS), is now online and includes an article on patient experiences of lobotomy. In “Looking Back: Interpreting Lobotomy – The Patients’ Stories” historian of medicine Mical Raz describes how patients and their families experienced the lobotomies preformed by Walter Freeman in the first half of the twentieth century. As Raz describes,
Freeman’s commitment toward the patients and the restoration of their health seemed so evident to patients and their families that even in cases of an unsuccessful lobotomy leading to disability or death, the families of the patients expressed their gratitude to him. Following a patient’s death after a second surgical attempt, the patient’s sister thanked Freeman and his partner, James Watts, for their ‘concern and interest’ in her sister’s condition. She was sure, she added, that her sister also would have thanked the physicians, ‘if she were able to do so’ (Maeve Ingber’s sister to James Watts, 1948). In his response, Freeman wrote that he and Watts had been ‘greatly disappointed in the outcome’. Yet he added that this had been a ‘situation of extraordinary difficulty where surgery offered the only opportunity for giving her peace of mind’. Commending the sister for her positive attitude toward ‘this unfortunate outcome’, Freeman thanked her for her letter (WF to Maeve Ingber’s sister, 1948). The physicians’ willingness to attempt surgery, and thus provide even a slim hope of cure, was interpreted as evidence of their care and dedication. For the families, this expression of interest and what was seen as a sincere desire to help their loved one was so significant that the results of the lobotomy, even the death of the patient, could be interpreted in a positive manner.
After posting about BBC Radio4’s new program A History of the Brain earlier this week, we bring to your attention yet another BBC Radio4 production: The Lobotomists. To mark the 75th anniversary of the first lobotomy performed in the United States, the program explores the work of Portuguese doctor Egas Moniz who first developed the lobotomy (or leucotomy), as well as the work of neurologist Walter Freeman and neurosurgeon Sir Wylie McKissock, who took up the procedure in the United States and Britain respectively. The Lobotomists can be heard online here and AHP’s previous posts on Walter Freeman and lobotomies can be found here.
2011 marks a 75th anniversary that many would prefer to forget: of the first lobotomy in the US. It was performed by an ambitious young American neurologist called Walter Freeman. Over his career, Freeman went on to perform perhaps 3,000 lobotomies, on both adults and later on children. He often performed 10 procedures or more a day. Perhaps 40,000 patients in the US were lobotomised during the heyday of the operation – and an estimated 17,000 more in the UK.
This programme tells the story of three key figures in the strange history of lobotomy – and for the first time explores the popularity of lobotomy in the UK in detail.