Frenology

F.J. Gall 1820

Franz Joseph Gall thought that a person’s character was reflected in the shape of the skull. By looking at the lumps and bumps of the skull, Gall made a kind of location map through which he could define someone’s character traits.

When in the first half of the 19th century doctors grew tired of interpreting people’s appearances as a way of understanding a person’s character, they began to focus on the skull.  The Viennese Doctor Franz Joseph Gall (1757-1828) was a pioneer in this field. He believed that character could be determined by studying the shape of the skull. After all, Gall was working on the assumption that character traits were located in certain regions of the brain and that the extent of the development of those traits was proportional to the physical dimensions of the part of the brain that was responsible for them. The skull would have a bump in that location. He found the skulls of geniuses, criminals and the mentally ill to be interesting material because they had the most pronounced characteristics. Gall developed a sort of map of the lumps and bumps of the skull, which could be used to investigate the characteristics to which they corresponded.

Like physiognomy, the study of the skull became a European fashion craze. Particularly after 1820, visits to phrenology institutes became extremely popular. People studied skulls with great attention, or consulted an expert in order to gain insight into their own character traits. This was a popular pastime for the upper classes, and some employers even hired phrenologists to test job applicants. Phrenology could serve many purposes. It was used by Utopians to allocate someone’s ideal position in society, by revolutionaries to turn the social system upside down, and by teachers to map out their pupils’ futures.