The History of Phrenology

Phrenology was a concept that was made popular in the early 19th century. People that studied phrenology believed that the shape of the skull had something to do with certain character or personality traits. Although the ancient Greeks had initially been the ones to delve into the topic, it was an Austrian doctor named Franz Joseph Gall that made it more widely known. His extensive study of the relationship between the shape of a person’s head and their psychological makeup was used for a number of purposes in the mid 19th century. Although it was first considered to be a science, it was widely used for psychological purposes.

Gall believed that the brain consisted of 27 individual organs that controlled different personality traits, or faculties. Each faculty coincided with a specific area of the skull and those areas were examined by hand and measured using calipers. Phrenologists believed that the dominant parts of one’s personality led to larger bumps on the skull and that areas that were not used extensively would shrink. The philosophies of phrenology were used in hopes to predict the outcome of someone’s life or to see if two people would be compatible for marriage according to their personality traits as measured by the phrenologist. Employers would send employees to phrenologists in hopes that the bumps on their heads would let them know whether or not a person was responsible and honest. It was also used to try to detect criminal behavior, for example, if the area of the brain that corresponded to the murderous instinct was very bumpy someone could be construed as having violent tendencies. Many criminals underwent phrenological evaluations.

 Gall's 27 faculties are as follows:

  1. Reproductive instincts
  2. Love for one’s children
  3. Friendship or affection
  4. Self defense and courage
  5. Murderous instincts
  6. Cleverness
  7. The instinct to retain property or covet belongings of others
  8. Arrogance
  9. Vanity
  10. The capability of deep thought
  11. The ability to be educated, or memory of things
  12. Thoughts in regards to actual places
  13. Relations and memory of people
  14. The ability to memorize words
  15. Speech or sense of language
  16. How one relates to colors
  17. Sense of music or sound in general
  18. The ability to connect numbers
  19. Aptitude towards mechanical things or the construction of buildings
  20. The ability to make good decisions
  21. The ability to understand philosophy or metaphysical issues
  22. Wit, humor
  23. Poetic abilities
  24. Compassion, moral character
  25. The ability to mimic, repeat or copy
  26. Religious tendencies
  27. The personality traits of tenacity or perseverance

The study of phrenology began to lose its luster in the early 1900’s. As medical science grew more sophisticated, the thought that bumps and indentations of the skull were able to predict personality traits was abandoned. Instead, more modern approaches to psychology, neurology and psychiatry started overtaking the popularity of phrenology.

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