Franz Joseph Gall was a German physician who devised the 19th Century movement known as phrenology. Phrenology was a version of physiognomy, where a person’s character could be determined by analysing their facial features. (Jahnke, 1997). Gall believed that not only higher functions were localised generally within the brain but also that different functions of the mind were localised within specific parts of the brain.
This work developed into Gall believing that by examining the bumps and indentations on the surface of an individuals skull, a “person’s particular cerebral organs responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits” could be discovered. (Whye, J. v. , 2002). This meant that certain personality traits were assigned to people depending on the shape of their skull i. e. smooth or rough. Gall originally devised 27 faculties responsible for character traits. After which, many phrenologists came up with more of these faculties.
If a person had a bump at the back of their skull, (an unusually developed cerebellum) then Gall believed this person to have a strong sexual drive and attributed this to a trait of amativeness. Gall demonstrated this when he studied a woman labelled by society as “Galls Passionate Widow” as she was well known for her erotic inclinations (Fancher, R. E. , 1996). Gall examined her skull and concluded that her inappropriate sexual behaviour was shown by her well developed cerebellum. Gall also studied other people who had unusually developed necks and found that they also tended to display a more erotic personality.
However, even though he had some evidence for personality traits and bumps on skull on individuals, he had a tendency to generalise this finding to everyone even though he not have support for all situations. This led to many of phrenology’s criticisms. Whilst there were some problems with phrenology as expected from a physicist theory, Gall still had many followers and believers. One of these was Johann Spurzheim who originally participated in medical research as a student which resulted in him meeting Gall.
Gall and Spurzheim in 1805 set off on a European tour from Vienna to Paris in an attempt to spread the idea of phrenology into English speaking countries and to widen everyone’s knowledge of the theory. (Herganhahn, B. R. , 2001). They promoted new doctrines about the study of the mind and brain and the interaction between these two. They believed that the bigger the organ, the bigger the talent therefore there would be a bigger bump on their skull where Gall assigned a specific characteristic to. Phrenology was becoming more popular largely due to the popularity of Gall.
Spurzheim publicised Gall’s doctrines which proved especially successful in Edinburgh. Phrenology received a review called the “Edinburgh Review” which largely raised Phrenology’s status and led to the first phrenological society being created in Edinburgh in 1820. (Whye, J. v. , 2002) Phrenology also gave people hope to find a true analysis of the status of their mind, to try and reach a sense of self improvement. Phrenologists diagnosed a person’s temperament or humour by examining the individual’s skull with their hands. This provided an accurate index of talents and abilities. From this, phrenologists could determine a suitable career.
Therefore, any person who felt they were undecided about their life, turned to phrenology for ‘help’. “The central theme that runs through all of the phrenological writings is that man himself could be studied scientifically and in particular that the phenomena of mind could be studied objectively and explained in terms of natural cases”. (Bakan, 1966, p. 208). This largely supports phrenological theory. Phrenology also had many practical applications, employers required prospective employees to receive an analysis from a phrenologist in order to obtain a full character reference.
This was so they could see their suitability for the job (Whye, J. v. , 2002). However, phrenology did only attract a certain type of person. People who were generally more gullible believed that phrenology was a creditable theory as they were more susceptible. As O. Donnell (1985, p. 78) believed, “With or without bumps, phrenology’s theory of human nature and personality recommended itself to emerging professional groups searching for ‘positive knowledge'”. Phrenology also became very popular in the area of education.
The 27 faculties that Gall originally devised were said to “become stronger with practice, as muscles do. ” (Herganhahn, B. R. , 2001, p. 215). Therefore, in order to improve academic ability, people needed to practice the traits associated with the mental faculties. This idea of arranging educational experiences to strengthen certain faculties was named as the ‘formal discipline’. This is still evident today as shown by Martin (1994) who found that if children study music for 10 minutes a day, it increases their mental and spatial reasoning.
This therefore supports phrenology. George Combe also largely supported phrenology. He was an Edinburgh lawyer who believed that each person is born with a set of talent and that by knowing what our talent is, we can develop a better sense of harmony with ourselves and within society. He showed that the organs behind bumps on people’s skulls could be enlarged through practice and then would be passed on to children. He demonstrated this support for phrenology in his hugely successful book, ‘Constitution of Man’ (1828).
In this, Combe popularises Gall’s doctrines even further by showing that phrenology can be beneficial for society as t can produce happiness, progress and harmony. I believe phrenology to have been so popular as it gave people hope, especially people who had less self esteem or confidence. Phrenology helped to give people a sense of identity. One legacy of phrenology theory that still remains today was shown by Pierre Paul Broca, a physician. He located speech as being in the 3rd frontal convolution of the left hemisphere and showed that if this area is damaged, then it would lead to aphasia i. . a loss for words. Even though Broca found this speech function to not be where Gall originally claimed it to be, it still supports phrenology’s main idea, in that psychological faculties have specific locations. Phrenology did influence psychology as t stimulated more research on brain functions and also the ‘importance of finishing practical information’ (Hergenhahn, B. R. , 2001, p. 216). Even though the principle that many functions are localized in the brain is still around today, phrenology received a large number of criticisms.
Firstly, Gall’s assumption that the shape of one’s skull reflects a person’s character traits was incorrect. He had no scientific basis for this claim which led to phrenology “never achieving the status of an accredited science”. (Whye, J. v. , 2002). This was largely due to Gall demonstrating his theory through observation and tended to discard any observation that did not support his theory. He claimed that any discrepancies in people’s behaviour were because of illness, i. e. organs becoming impaired by disease. Phrenology was mainly discredited by a French scientist called Pierre Flourens.
He developed ideas that contrasted largely with Gall’s, which led to the decline of phrenology. Flourens aimed to study the functions of the brain by means of experimental methods. He largely criticised Gall as he conducted his methods observationally therefore variables could not be manipulated. Flourens therefore attempted to manipulate independent variables and carefully observe the dependent variables. (Fancher, R. E. , 1996). This was done by a technique called ablation; Flourens destroyed part of the brain and observed the consequences regarding behaviour.
He also demonstrated this using dogs and pigeons as he believed that human and animal brains were quite similar. From these, experiments, Flourens found some basis for Gall’s claims in that there is some localisation but not of the kind that phrenologists believed, he found that the “cortical hemisphere’s do not have localised functions. ” (Hergenhahn, B. R. , 2001, p. 217). He observed that the cerebellum was the centre of a specific function but not ‘amativeness’ as Gall and phrenology originally believed. Flourens further showed that people do have separate functions but these were evenly distributed within each organ.
Flourens also observed that animals sometimes regain functions that they had lost during ablation therefore believed the cortex functioned as a unit. However, Flourens tended to miss the important effects of cortical localisation as he focused mainly on the unity of brain function. In conclusion, phrenology remained controversial and was never truly regarded as a science but between the 1820’s and 1840’s, it managed to become popular despite its criticisms. The criticisms phrenology fought against have made their mark today as shown by the current education system, i. e. strengthening faculties by arranging educational experiences.