Obscure Curiosities

Phrenology — A Pseudoscientific Theory of Personality

Phrenology is a pseudoscientific theory that suggests that the shape and size of a person’s skull and bumps on their head can reveal information about their personality, behavior, and intelligence. It was popular in the 19th century but has since been discredited as a valid scientific theory.

Phrenology Bust, by Dan Bluementhal, Public Domain.

The pseudoscience of Phrenology divides the human brain into 35 faculties, each associated with a specific area of the brain and a corresponding personality trait. Here are the 35 faculties of phrenology:

  1. Amativeness (sexual love)
  2. Philoprogenitiveness (parental love)
  3. Adhesiveness (friendship and social bonding)
  4. Inhabitiveness (love of home and place)
  5. Concentrativeness (mental focus and concentration)
  6. Vitativeness (love of life and fear of death)
  7. Combativeness (aggressiveness and desire to fight)
  8. Destructiveness (destructive tendencies and cruelty)
  9. Constructiveness (creativity and desire to build)
  10. Acquisitiveness (desire for wealth and material possessions)
  11. Secretiveness (love of secrecy and tendency to keep secrets)
  12. Cautiousness (caution and fear of risk-taking)
  13. Approbativeness (love of approval and desire for praise)
  14. Self-esteem (self-confidence and pride)
  15. Firmness (determination and willpower)
  16. Conscientiousness (sense of responsibility and duty)
  17. Hope (optimism and positive outlook)
  18. Marvelousness (love of the supernatural and the mysterious)
  19. Ideality (love of ideals and perfection)
  20. Wonder (sense of awe and amazement)
  21. Benevolence (kindness and generosity)
  22. Veneration (respect for authority and tradition)
  23. Firmness (resoluteness and strength of character)
  24. Individuality (sense of self and uniqueness)
  25. Form (sense of beauty and appreciation of form)
  26. Size (perception of size and proportion)
  27. Weight (perception of weight and density)
  28. Color (perception of color and hue)
  29. Order (love of order and organization)
  30. Calculation (mathematical ability and love of numbers)
  31. Locality (sense of direction and orientation)
  32. Eventuality (memory and ability to recall events)
  33. Time (perception of time and sense of punctuality)
  34. Tune (musical ability and love of music)
  35. Language (language ability and love of language)

It is important to note that phrenology has been widely discredited and is not a valid scientific theory. The faculties of phrenology have no scientific basis and should not be used to make judgments about an individual’s personality or behavior.

Still, phrenology trivia is a very popular niche for people to search even in 2023. So, now with a little understanding of how phrenology was supposed to work, here are some of the best resources for facts and trivia about phrenology we’ve curated from the internet.

Elements Of Phrenology by George Combe

In 1855, George Combe published a self-titled book, Elements of Phrenology, which described the theory using medical terminology that bases the pseudoscience of psychology on cranial features.

Phrenology: The Study Of Skull Shape And Behavior

Simply Psychology discusses the origins of Phrenology, as it was once called craniology.  The article cites the criticisms of Phrenology as having sexist and racist origins, and basis in Christianity.

Phrenology’s History and Influence

Verywell Mind has a lot of information on the history of Phrenology.  The blog discusses the history of the pseudoscience, from its origin in the 1700’s in Vienna as Franz Joseph Gall’s theory of Organology, later popularized by his assistant, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, as Phrenology.

The Phrenology Quiz

How Stuff Works has a phrenology quiz called “You Should Have Your Head Examined” which tests your knowledge about the pseudoscience and culture of phrenology. Why did phrenologists believe we behave as we do, and what did the shape of our forehead have anything to do with the shape of our character in their understanding?

6 Comments

  • Content Catnip

    This was a really interesting history thank you, most of this I didn’t know. listened to an interesting podcast a while ago where there was a woman promoting the value of phrenology, it was used as a racist tool as well to differentiate peoples skull shapes to indicate inferiority based on race, when I heard about that it put me off it.

    • Thomas Slatin

      BMI (Body Mass Index) also comes from racist origins and has been medically proven to be a poor indicator of a person’s health. And yet for whatever reason, the medical community refuses to denounce it as pseudoscience.

      • Content Catnip

        I didn’t know that about BMI wow! I will look into this further thank you. Ive always been over BMI a bit and in various stages of my life hated myself a tiny bit because if that…just knowing that its a lie makes me feel instantly better!

        • Thomas Slatin

          The doctors labeled me as dangerously obese because I have a high BMI. The truth is that I am solid muscle and have very little body fat. Because muscle ways more than body fat, the doctors tell me that I need to lose weight.

  • Content Catnip

    So silly of these doctors. Do you ascribe to the body types idea of ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph? I am the muscly athletic one as well…just embrace and love yourself as you are…and if you exercise and eat healthily you will feel great and screw what the doctor says!

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