Experimental Ablation
Experimental ablation is one of the most common research methods. It consists of removal or destruction of part of the brain of an experimental animal for the purpose of studying the functions of that region of the brain. Most often tissue is destroyed rather than removed. The animal’s behavior is then observed to determine what part of the body is controlled by that particular region of the brain. The technique is also referred to as lesion studies.

The rationale behind such a procedure is that after a brain lesion occurs, if an animal can no longer perform a particular function which was previously performable, then an inference can be made that the area of the brain destroyed is indeed the area which controls that bodily function. Care must be taken when interpreting results of ablation. It is not as easy to determine that an animal is blind, for example, as it is in humans. In addition, a distinction must be made between brain function and behavior. One brain region or neural circuit cannot be responsible for behavior. The goal is to determine what functions are combined to perform particular behaviors.

Experimental ablation is performed on animals for the purpose of research. Such a technique on humans would be unethical, therefore; experimental animals serve an important role. When diseases or accidents cause brain damage in humans, we can observe behavior and make the same types of inferences if we can locate the brain lesion.

Carlson, N.R. (1999). Foundations of physiological psychology (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
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