The advent of chlorpromazine in 1955 put an end to one of the more bizarre chapters in American psychiatry.$^1$ Dr. Robert Heath implanted wires or delivered injections of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) deep into the 'septal regions' of the brains of men and women with various physical and mental disorders. His discovery of the brain's 'pleasure center' actually preceded the discovery of the same center in rats by about 20 years [Baumeister, below, at 272].

In one of his papers$^2$ Heath describes intense orgasmic experiences on the part of his patients in response to his treatments, which he dutifully records on EEGs.

His description of Patient b-5 is especially interesting. He relates: "The patient became more attuned to her environment, answered questions more rapidly and accurately, and solved simple mathematical problems with more ease...and in most instances, within another 5 to 10 minutes, this [heightened attunement] culminated in repetitive orgasms." [Heath, below, at 12].

In addition to refreshing my interest in solving simple mathematical problems, this article made me wonder whether this area of research had been resumed in some form. Many of the ethical and technical problems discussed in Maumeister's article seem surmountable, especially in light of computer-aided visualization of brain structures. Not to mention that a kindred treatment, ECT (electroshock), which can still actually be done involuntarily, has seen something of a comeback in the U.S. since the 1940s. ECT is basically controlled destruction of brain tissue, which seems to cast Heath's work in a kinder light.

So my question is whether this thread has been taken up or whether, as one VIP put it, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I was unable to turn anything up.

Thanks for any enlightenment.

$^1$ Baumeister, The Tulane Electrical Brain Stimulation Program: A Historical Case Study in Medical Ethics (2000), J. of the History of the Neurosciences 9 (3): 262-78. See page 270.

$^2$Heath, Pleasure and Brain Activity in Man, (1972) Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 154 (1): 3-17.


closed as off-topic by Devashish Das, Chris, Bez, Amory, user560 Jul 21 '14 at 23:07

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    $\begingroup$ This question belongs to Cogsci. $\endgroup$ – Devashish Das Jul 21 '14 at 17:53