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Reader comments to media reports on psychiatric neurosurgery: past history casts shadows on the future



Comments made by readers in response to news articles about current events can provide profound insights into public understanding of and perspectives on those events. Here, in follow up to a paper published last year in this journal, we examined reader comments to articles in newspapers and magazines about neurosurgical interventions for treating psychiatric illness.


We conducted a thematic analysis of these comments (N = 662 coded units of data) posted in response to 115 newspaper and magazine articles from four countries (Canada, USA, Germany, and Spain) between 2006 and 2017. The comments were coded using an iteratively refined coding scheme that was structured around four a priori categories based on results from the parent study and two new categories that emerged.


We found many references to historical psychosurgery and mostly negative and pessimistic comments about ablative neurosurgical interventions. Comments to deep brain stimulation were more positive, and comments to optogenetics most controversial. We also found many expressions of distrust of medical professionals in the context of interventions on the brain and concerns about social and individual control.


Overall, results suggest there is still much work to be done to raise public awareness about re-emerging and new neurosurgical interventions. Balanced discussion is needed if these approaches are to find a place in health care for psychiatric disorders.

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We would like to acknowledge the support from members of the ERA-NET NEURON psychiatric neurosurgery team, and Caitlin Courchesne (Neuroethics Canada) for the thoughtful comments on previous drafts.


ERA-NET NEURON Team Grant: Ethical, Legal and Social (ELS) Issues #ERN-144241 (JI) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (01GP1621A) (SM). The sponsor had no role in the design or conduct of this research.

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Correspondence to Judy Illes.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Functional Neurosurgery - Other

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Cabrera, L.Y., Bittlinger, M., Lou, H. et al. Reader comments to media reports on psychiatric neurosurgery: past history casts shadows on the future. Acta Neurochir 160, 2501–2507 (2018).

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  • Psychiatric neurosurgery
  • Neuroethics
  • Public perceptions