Phrenology and the neurosciences: contributions of F. J. Gall and J. G. Spurzheim

ANZ J Surg. 2005 Jun;75(6):475-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-2197.2005.03426.x.


The pseudoscience of phrenology arose from the observations and intuitions of Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) and his disciple Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). Gall believed that mental functions are localized in discrete parts of the brain, which he called organs. He located the organs subserving intellectual functions chiefly in the cerebral cortex. To support this doctrine, Gall and Spurzheim carried out extensive neuro-anatomical studies, and made some important discoveries. The Gordon Craig Library contains a book by Spurzheim on the anatomy of the brain, published in London in 1826, which summarizes these discoveries. Gall also believed that the functional strength of the cerebral and cerebellar organs was expressed by their bulk: a well-developed organ caused a bulge in the overlying cranial bone. Hence, feeling the bumps of the skull was a means of assessing the individual's personality. This very fallacious component of Gall's doctrine had great influence in the nineteenth century, affecting psychiatry, criminology and educational theory. Further research demolished Gall's doctrine, and phrenology sank into disrepute. Nevertheless, phrenological thinking played an important part in the growth of clinical neurology in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • France
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Medical Illustration / history
  • Neurosciences / history*
  • Phrenology / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Feanz Joseph Gall
  • Johan Gaspar Spurzheim