Craniology is the study of the differences in proportion, size, and shape of the cranium, or skull. Also called phrenology, it has its roots in the 18th century, when people believed that the character of a person could be revealed by the shape of his or her skull. Craniology was once considered an important practice in anthropology studies.
Developed by Franz Joseph Gall, a German physician, craniology is based on the premise that the brain itself is an organ of the mind. During this time period, it was a common belief that the different mental abilities of an individual were held in separate, orderly alcoves within the cerebral cortex. The makeup of a person's skull was said to indicate the size of each faculty, and therefore how much of a certain trait that person possessed. A craniologist would carefully examine a skull, identifying various depressions and bumps, and provide a diagnosis of that person's personality.
Today craniology is thought to be a pseudoscience. Though craniologists may claim that it is a scientific practice, it does not actually abide by acceptable standards of scientific methodology. Some scientists even dismissed the study as a pseudoscience upon its inception. However, that did not prevent it from being used in many psychiatry and neuroscience theories and practices.
Anthropological practices that specialized in studying features of the head in order to make personality predictions are not limited to craniology. Craniometry involves measuring the bones in the skull, while physiognomy is the study of facial features. Each of these disciplines claim to be able to predict traits or intelligence through their studies. These practices are also widely dismissed as quackery by modern scientists.
These fields were mainly utilized in physical anthropology during the 19th and 20th centuries. Their use was heavily political, providing justification for race segregation based on the different cranial makeup of each race. Georges Vacher de Lapouge, a prominent French anthopologist, was particularly in favor of such racialism. He created a hierarchy of the human race, hoping to instill a fixed social order.
Following its use by white supremacists in the early 20th century, many scientists came forward with counter evidence to disprove these notions. The use of such theories to create racial division is considered both unethical and unscientific. Modern scientists and historians both continue to study craniology and its related studies as a cautionary reminder what kind of effects the misuse of science can cause.