phrenology | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

Phrenology is a pseudoscientific theory that suggests the shape and size of a person’s skull can reveal their character traits, mental abilities, and even their criminal tendencies.

It was popular in the 19th century but has since been discredited as having no scientific basis.

Phrenology is based on the idea that different parts of the brain are responsible for different personality traits and abilities and that these areas can be identified by examining the shape and contours of the skull. According to this theory, bumps or depressions in the skull could indicate particular mental faculties or personality traits. For example, a prominent bump on the forehead indicates a person’s capacity for logical thinking. At the same time, a depression in the back of the head was believed to be a sign of criminal tendencies.

Despite its lack of scientific validity, phrenology gained popularity in the 19th century. It was used to justify various social policies, including the segregation of individuals with mental illness and the practice of eugenics. However, the theory was ultimately discredited by scientific research, which demonstrated that there was no relationship between skull shape and personality traits. Today, phrenology is regarded as a pseudoscience and is not recognized as a valid field of study in any reputable scientific discipline.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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