You probably thought this post was going to be about how Meredith Grey (or perhaps McDreamy?) is a neuroscientist, or how Shonda Rhimes (the creator of Grey’s Anatomy) anticipated some surprising discovery of modern neuroscience. Alas, I have no such insights. Marcel Proust may have been a neuroscientist, but Grey’s Anatomy is still just an entertaining and delightfully dumb primetime soap opera. To be perfectly honest, I’m always slightly ashamed at myself after I squander 42 minutes of my life on the randy residents of Seattle Grace hospital.
The most recent episode revolved around a patient with a tumor in his frontal lobes, which led this poor man to do all sorts of impulsive things. For instance, he decided to marry a waitress he’d only known for ten days and, while camping in the woods, he started to pet a bear cub. (The mother bear then mauled his older brother. The plot really was that silly.)
This is a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post, which is that frontal lesions and tumors can often cause bizarrely impulsive behavior. One of the most vivid examples of this concerns the case of the married, middle-aged Virginia schoolteacher who, rather suddenly, started frequenting prostitutes, downloading child pornography, and seducing young girls. (You can read the journal article here.) His behavior was so brazen that he was quickly arrested and convicted of child molestation. The day before his sentencing, he complained of blinding headaches and a constant urge to rape his neighbor. The man was sent to the emergency room, where he started to proposition the nurses. After a routine MRI, the doctors saw the source of the problem: he had a massive tumor lodged in his frontal cortex, specifically the right orbitofrontal area. After the tumor was removed, the deviant sexual urges immediately disappeared. The man was no longer a hypersexual monster. Unfortunately, this reprieve was brief, and the tumor started to grow back within a year. His frontal cortex was once again incapacitated, and the urges of pedophilia returned.