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Phrenology (from Greek: φρήν, phrēn, "mind"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge") is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules (see modularity of mind).[1] Phrenology was especially popular from about 1810 until 1840. Following the materialist notions of mental functions originating in the brain, phrenologists believed that human conduct could best be understood in neurological rather than abstract terms. It is now considered a pseudoscience. Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796,[2] the discipline was very popular in the 19th century. The principal British centre for phrenology was Edinburgh, where the Edinburgh Phrenological Society was established in 1820. In 1843, François Magendie referred to phrenology as "a pseudo-science of the present day."[3]

Phrenological thinking was, however, influential in 19th-century psychiatry and modern neuroscience. Gall's assumption that character, thoughts, and emotions are located in the brain is considered an important historical advance toward neuropsychology (see also localization of brain function, Brodmann's areas, neuro-imaging, modularity of mind or faculty psychology).[4][5] Furthermore, some genetic conditions from Williams Syndrome to homosexuality have biometric markers such as hypertelorism, macroencephaly, hair whorl, etc. which have empirical analogs in phrenology.

Phrenologists believed that the mind has a set of different mental faculties, with each particular faculty represented in a different area of the brain. These areas were said to be proportional to a person's propensities, and the importance of the given mental faculty. It was believed that the cranial bone conformed in order to accommodate the different sizes of these particular areas of the brain in different individuals, so that a person's capacity for a given personality trait could be determined simply by measuring the area of the skull that overlies the corresponding area of the brain.

As a type of theory of personality, phrenology can be considered to be an advance over the old medical theory of the four humours. Phrenology, which focuses on personality and character, should be distinguished from craniometry, which is the study of skull size, weight and shape, and physiognomy, the study of facial features.


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