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Phrenology: What the bumps on your head can tell you

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In the early days the new field later be called psychology took a bumpy road and some strange practices were observed. One in particular was a field called phrenology. Back in the 1700s Franz Joseph Gall a, German physician, developed the field of phrenology.

According to this theory a person’s personality could be determined by the bumps on his/her skull. One thing he found was that humans have a larger cerebral cortex than other animals. He concluded this made humans more intelligent. He then concluded that the physical features of the cortex could be observed on the skull. He felt he could determine the inner features of the cerebral cortex by examining the size and shape of the skull.

He did his preliminary research with pickpockets and he found that they all had bumps on the skull above the ears. He certainly had a big ego because he decided he could determine personality, character and even ability by examining these bumps. Of course this led to the erroneous conclusion that the bumps above the ears determined such negative characteristic such as lying, thievery.

Kendra Cherry of writes that, “In his book on the subject of phrenology, Gall suggested that:

  • Moral and intellectual faculties were innate.
  • The exercise or manifestation of these faculties depended upon their organization.
  • The brain controlled all of the propensities, sentiments and faculties.
  • The brain was composed of as many organs as there are different faculties, propensities and sentiments.
  • The form of the skull represented and reflected the form and development of the brain organs.”

Gall based all his findings on his examination of convicts and people in hospitals and insane asylums. This theory was controversial in his own time and considered pseudoscience even back then because of the lack of rigorous research methods. Today we know that phrenology is bogus. However, he did do a lot to advance the new study of psychology.



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