Medical students' responses to the dissection of the heart and brain: A dialogue on the seat of the soul



The search for the soul has been documented since the fifth Century BCE when philosophers and physicians began to explore the role of human consciousness and emotion. Traditionally in western civilization, there have been two distinct followings with some believing that the brain was the seat of the soul and others believing that this role belonged to the heart. The aim of this study was to assess the attitudes of medical students towards the heart and brain during their anatomy laboratory dissections to evaluate if any extra meaning is given to these organs and where they perceived the origin of the soul. Medical students (n = 16) at the University of Otago were interviewed in regards to their thoughts about body dissection and particularly their views towards the brain and the heart. Semi-structured interviews were conducted following the dissection of these two organs, and then transcribed and analyzed. There were mixed opinions among students with some experiencing difficulty dissecting the brain because this organ had special meaning to them; they perceived it as the organ that “made a person who they were.” Others commented on their emotional reactions when removing the heart, which they viewed as the “seat of emotion.” Some students experienced emotional and physical reactions to these two dissections and Anatomy faculty need to be aware that students may struggle because they viewed these organs as special. A dialogue emerged amongst some medical students on the seat of the soul which gave extra meaning to the dissection. Clin. Anat. 25:407–413, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.