Inside lobotomies

We bring together our lobotomy articles, and point to our top picks from elsewhere.

In the 1930s, António Egas Moniz pioneered the procedure of leucotomy, known more commonly as lobotomy. The procedure involved severing the connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain, in an attempt to cure mental illness. In the 1940s, Walter Freeman developed and popularised the transorbital lobotomy, using a sharp instrument similar to an ice pick, inserted through the eye sockets and moved around to destroy neural connections. Many patients died as a result of the imprecise surgery, and the outcomes in those who survived were variable. The availability of antipsychotic drugs from the 1950s led to a reduction in lobotomies.

Here we gather our own articles on lobotomy, and our top picks from the web.


From The Psychologist

An obsession, a hobby or an expiation?
Roberta Reb Allen with a family tale involving the infamous neurologist Walter Freeman.

Interpreting lobotomy – the patients' stories
Mical Raz examines the reasons why the procedure was once so popular, with patients and physicians alike.

Blasts from the past
If there’s such a thing as the ‘natural lobotomy’, Jim Horne is fascinated by it…



The lobotomists
BBC Radio 4. Hugh Levinson considers how lobotomies became so popular in the UK.

He was bad, so they put an ice pick in his brain...
The Guardian. Elizabeth Day on 12-year-old Howard Dully’s lobotomy by Dr Walter Freeman.

 “My ice-pick lobotomy”
BBC World Service. Howard Dully describes the impact of his lobotomy to Lucy Ash.

‘Dr Freeman’ by The Puncture Repair Kit
A song about Walter Freeman’s lobotomies by a band featuring psychologist Dr Rebecca Lawson on drums.


The lobotomy thankfully no longer exists as a treatment for mental illness. A more precise procedure, the lobectomy, is carried out to treat those who suffer from epileptic seizures. A temporal lobectomy, whereby a small part of the brain is removed, can be recommended if medication is ineffective. Many individuals who receive this surgery stop experiencing seizures. 

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