Medical Definition of Lobotomy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Lobotomy: A neurosurgical procedure performed in the past that involved severing the nerve fibers that connect the prefrontal cortex (the anterior and frontal lobes of the brain) to other parts of the brain. The procedure was developed in the late 1930s and was widely performed beginning in the 1940s as a treatment for different types of behavioral and mental problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There were a number of different surgical techniques used to accomplish the destruction of the nerve fibers, with one of the most well-known being the transorbital lobotomy, in which a surgical instrument was passed through the eye socket. The procedure came to be abused by many practitioners and was promoted by some as a way to control undesirable behavior.

By 1950, the procedure was beginning to fall out of favor, both because of a lack of scientific evidence that the patients improved following the surgery as well as the development of more effective medications for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. The procedure is rarely, if ever, performed today.

Reviewed on 9/7/2018


"Moniz Develops Lobotomy for Mental Illness." A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. PBS. <>.

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