Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) speculated that different mental functions are located in specific parts of the brain, therefore becoming the first person to complete the theory of cerebral localization. In his book The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General and the Brain in Particular, a four-volume set published between 1810 and 1819, Gall set down the principles that focused on the contours and measurements of the human head as the basis of his doctrine on cranioscopy or phrenology. (The word phrenology stems from phrenos, or mind, and logos, meaning study.)

Gall believed it possible to establish individual behavior, personality, character, and strengths and weaknesses by studying the contours or bumps on the head. Complete with topographical maps depicting and illustrating his findings, his book and theories caused a sensation that still continues today. Many either embraced and hailed phrenology as a new science, or shunned or scorned it at best, as a "pseudoscience." Even today, there are some doctors, practitioners, societies, and websites advocating the authenticity and accuracy of phrenology.

Perhaps because it appeared so logical, with easy-to-follow maps and interpretations of them, phrenology provided a relatively simple diagnostic technique, and caught on as a raving sensation throughout parts of Europe and the United States. The supposed scientific, medical application of phrenology soon found its way into the hands of self-taught and self-styled "experts" who exploited it. Phrenology became the basis for many things, from the selection of marriage partners to employees for the workplace; as a diagnostic tool for mental illness to a way of determining personality profiles— but mainly to generate money. Phrenology parlors were everywhere between 1820 and 1842, giving rise to many inventions. Phrenology machines made it possible for a person to get a detailed interpretation of their personality by allowing a helmet to descend upon his or her head and measure and read the bumps on the skull. Some of these machines and their history are preserved and on display in the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Cooper, Helen, and Peter Cooper Heads, or the Art of Phrenology. London: London Phrenology Co. Ltd., 1983.

Gall and Phrenology. [Online] 22 November 2002.

Hedderly, Frances. Phrenology, A Study of Mind. London: L. N. Fowler & Co. Ltd., 1970.

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