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study of the shape of the human skull in order to draw conclusions about particular character traits and mental faculties. The theory was developed about 1800 by the German physiologist Franz Joseph Gall and popularized in the United States by Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler through their publication the Phrenological Almanac and other publications. Modern neurology and physical anthropology have refuted the theory and consider its use a form of quackery.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a false theory that certain mental abilities are localized in various sectors of the human brain and can be distinguished by palpating the skull. Phrenology was developed by the Austrian physician and anatomist F. Gall; it was especially popular in the first half of the 19th century, owing to its propagation by Gall’s student J. Spurzheim and his followers in Western Europe. Dozens of phrenological societies were founded in Europe in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Phrenological data were used to diagnose mental and character traits. The achievements of physiologists, for example, M. J. P. Flourens in France, showed the insubstantiality of phrenology, which nevertheless continued to arouse interest until the early 20th century.

In the 1870’s a number of scientists, including G. Fritsch and E. Hitzig of Germany, developed theories concerning the localization of mental functions in various zones of the cortex of the large hemispheres of the brain. Their theories were sometimes called the new phrenology.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(formerly) the branch of science concerned with localization of function in the human brain, esp determination of the strength of the faculties by the shape and size of the skull overlying the parts of the brain thought to be responsible for them
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(82) Demonstrations of phrenological head reading and hypnotic trance ("animal magnetism") through lyceum lectures and debates provided visceral and highly public proofs of materialist forms of explanation of human nature.
influenced by eugenic and phrenological models of intellectual
Binswanger goes farther than Bidart by discussing--without, I should add, critiquing--West's case in terms of eugenic and phrenological assessments of body type and especially skull shape and size and a reading of facial features as depicting racially marked and hierarchically evaluated characteristics.
That standard would not be satisfied were the results of a polygraph no better than random, as with, for example, the putative admissibility of astrological data or phrenological experts to provide evidence about a witness's veracity or a defendant's character for, say, violence.
Nonetheless, the physiognomic and phrenological readings of Poe in comparison to his characters, along with the familiar biographical background of the writer, are the basic elements that help with the creation of Poe's image as a tragic hero doomed by a minor character flaw.
She tells of the popularity of the Phrenological Society in Cincinnati, for example.
In respect of ideality, reverence, wonder, and other such phrenological attributes, it is no worse off than it used to be.
Mr Bridges, of the Phrenological Institute, 30, Mount Pleasant, later joined officials crowded around Palmer's body.
Nearly a century later, advocates of deterministic skull measurement continued to tout its potential as a human resources tool, with a letter writer in The Phrenological Journal describing it as an efficiency tool on par with typewriters and telephones.
There the firm printed the American Phrenological Journal (and its many subsequent iterations), received visitors, and, via lectures, publications, and skull readings, popularized a science aimed at delineating one's character traits by identifying how the shape of one's head corresponded to the contours of one's brain and thus to one's personality (Stern 34).
There is also an item on the establishment of a phrenological professorship in a college of Buenos Aires.
His popular phrenology lectures reached a wider popular audience in 1839 when the Phrenological Society of New York transcribed, collated, and reprinted his American lectures under the title Lectures on Phrenology, By George Combe, Esq., Including Its Application to the Present and Prospective Condition of the United States.