The Forgotten Science of Phrenology

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11584

Where is your center for philoprogenitiveness? Can the shape of your head tell you? That's what some believed years ago. Create a museum exhibit based on this bogus science and its bumpy history!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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"You should have your head examined!" So goes the common put-down. The head and its contents are clearly responsible for a lot. What are the different parts of the brain and what are they responsible for? How do we know what we know about the locations of the brain and their functions?

Try this: Imagine a horse.

Now, put one single horn on its head. Give it wings. Make it purple. Then make it fly over the Eiffel Tower. How is it possible for this three-pound mass inside your head to create that kind of imagery out of nothing?

The strange properties of the brain puzzled and astonished human beings throughout the ages. It wasn't until relatively recent times, however, that people attempted to analyze the brain and map its functions.

One of the attempts at doing just that was known as phrenology. Phrenology was based on the popular belief that the shape of the head determined your mental abilities. Find out more about the history of phrenology by reading the article provided below. As you read, locate and record information and ideas to answer the following questions:

  • What were the basic principles of phrenology?
  • Who developed this method and when?
  • Why is phrenology considered a pseudoscience ?
  • What idea from phrenology persists into the present day?

Read the article, A Closer Look at Phrenology's History and Influence, by Kendra Cherry, VeryWellMind, and record your answers to the questions above. Then, share your discoveries with your parent or teacher. Reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • Why do some ideas get discarded over time?
  • What is the difference between pseudoscience and science?
  • What are other ideas now considered pseudoscience?

Our understanding of brain science has become a great deal more sophisticated since the time of Franz Joseph Gall. We now have MRI and CAT and other methods of imaging the brain in order to understand how different regions function.

In the Got It? section, you will compare contemporary models with Gall's approach.

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