Franz Joseph Gall & Phrenology Theory: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Sarah Collins
Learn about phrenology. Understand the theory behind its practice and how it was used to help explain human personality and behavior. Learn about its important role in the developement of neurology.


Take a look at this woman (yes, that's a woman).

Deformed Head

Well, let's jump in our time machine--the one behind the refrigerator--and go back to 1810. Load her--we'll call her Maggie--into our buggy and we'll zoom across the German landscape to make our 10 a.m. appointment with Dr. Franz Joseph Gall.

Franz Joseph Gall

Phrenology Explained

Gall is a physician who looks a lot like George Washington and has theorized that human personality and behavior is based on the shape and size of regions in the brain. These different regions control everything from the ability to perceive color to a tendency towards superstition. Gall felt the best way to examine the shape and size of the regions without a patient having to have his or her head cut open was to examine the shape of the skull. Examining the skull to better understand the brain is called phrenology. The word 'phrenology' is the combination of the Greek words phren or 'mind' and logos or 'knowledge.' It's kind of a Princess and Pea phenomenon. Remember the fairy tale where the princess became aware of a pea under mattress because of the bump she felt when lying down?

Gall asks Maggie to take a seat. As he examines her head, he takes out a measuring tape and measures many sections of Maggie's skull. He then asks her to remove her impressive ponytail so he can feel her entire skull. He's checking for elevations and depressions. 'Your hands are cold!' she says sternly. Once he's taken all the data, he references a chart similar to this one:

Phrenology Chart

As you can see, each area of the brain has been given domain over some type of personality attribute, feeling, or behavior. Let's look at Maggie's melon again. Her forehead area is pretty narrow and squashed, while the back end is significantly elongated (you think to yourself that her mother should get a trophy for what that labor must have been like). Dr. Gall says, 'Well, Maggie, I can see that you are very, very consistent and firm with whatever you do and that your self esteem is through the roof which is good considering...uh. Well, also, you seem to be very conscientious and love to make friends.' So, far this rings true to you as she had already invited you and I to the movies during the buggy ride over. Dr. Gall continues (cautiously, because her combativeness region is also very much over developed), 'Well, you have some difficulty with language, it's amazing that you arrived here on time, and you don't have much of a sense of humor.' Maggie is visibly upset (he was right!) and grabs your arm to get going. She yells, 'Quack!' as the buggy speeds away.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You've watched a video! Check out the next video or take the quiz to keep learning.
Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you earn course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, try again.
You now have full access to our lessons and courses, watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You just finished your first lesson. has thousands of lessons to help you meet your educational goals.
You're making great progress. Keep it up!
Congrats on viewing 10 lessons! You're doing great.
Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you earn course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, try again.
You're getting the hang of this! Keep taking quizzes to make progress on your learning goals.
Look how far you've come! Take all the quizzes in a chapter and you'll master this topic in no time.
Keep clicking that 'next lesson' button whenever you finish a lesson and its quiz.
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate and you'll be done before you know it.
Two days in a row, nice! Keep your streak going to get the most of your learning and reach your goal faster.