Psych M.D. – PhrenologyThis is a featured page


Term: Phrenology
Definition (Myers):An ill-fated theory by Franz Gall, that claimed bumps on the skull could reveal our mental abilities and our character traits. 1
Definition (alternative):A faculty psychology, theory of brain and science of character reading, what the 19th-century phrenologists called "the only true science of mind." Phrenology was derived from the theories of the idiosyncratic Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828). The basic tenets of Gall's system were:
1.The brain is the organ of the mind. 2. The mind is composed of multiple distinct, innate faculties. 3. Because they are distinct, each faculty must have a separate seat or "organ" in the brain. 4. The size of an organ, other things being equal, is a measure of its power. 5. The shape of the brain is determined by the development of the various organs. 6. As the skull takes its shape from the brain, the surface of the skull can be read as an accurate index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies. 2
Contextual explanation: Phrenology was a theory that Joseph Gall created while studying the brain and its function. His theory was that the random bumps and shapes of the external brain affected the personalities of each individual. The theory proved to be completely wrong.
Related terms and concepts:
  • Physiognomy: The study of internal character from external appearances- most notably the face- was a partly aesthetic and partly philosophical practice which preceded phrenology (its roots lay as far back as the middle ages). Its main advocate in the late eighteenth century was the Swiss clergyman J. G. Lavater (1741-1801) in his Physiognomical Fragments (1775-8).
  • Faculty: phrenologists believed "the mind" was divided into a number of discrete departments, each specialized for certain tasks or tendencies, e.g. "the faculty of Benevolence means every mode of benevolent feeling induced by means of the organ of Benevolence." The cerebral organs and their faculties carried the same n
  • Organ: the "material instrument" by which a particular faculty was believed to operate. The size of an organ was the measure of its power or activity. The skull was said to take its shape from the underlying brain and hence, the larger or smaller an organ, the skull above it was expected to reflect this development. (Phrenologists pointed to cases of hydrocephalus, collection of water in the brain, in which the skull can become grotesquely distended while brain function may be unimpaired). The phrenological organs were mirrored in each hemisphere which is why some busts only have organs marked on one side. (i.e. there were two of each except Amativeness.)
  • Bumpology: is probably one of the best-known aspersions used to lampoon phrenology.
  • Pseudoscience: Historians of science no longer use this term as it is considered to be judgmental. It implies the application of a current conception of science, and proper scientific attributes, onto a historical phenomena. Such value judgments about the so-called virtues and vices of historical subjects are now seen as outside the actual scope of historians' project. Most historians of science today consider the use of this term as naive. 3
Videos and Images


The Idea of Phrenology5

Psych M.D. – Phrenology - The Neuron6

Related websites:
  1. Myers, D. G. (2004). Psychology. Holland, Michigan: Worth Publishers.
  2. Wyhe, John van (2000). The Victorian Web. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from The History of Phrenology Web site:
  3. Wyhe, John van (2000). The Victorian Web. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from The History of Phrenology Web site:
  4. TV. (n.d.). YouTube - Phrenology - studying the shape of the head. Retrieved September 13, 2009, from
  5. Phrenology. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2009, from
  6. Phrenology. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2009, from
Edited by: Megan
Date of last edit: Sep. 14. 09

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