Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Phrenology is outdated

Phrenology was developed by Franz Joseph Gall, a German physician, in 1796, and was very useful and popular in the 19th century, specifically from about 1810 until 1840. The belief was that a person's personality, character, thoughts, and emotions were all located in different regions of the brain, which doesn't seem like that ridiculous of a theory considering different lobes of the brain control certain aspects of the person we are. How this process worked was a phrenologist would observe and feel the skull to determine a persons psychological attributes. Gall believed that their were 27 individual organs that made up the brain, and one would feel for enlargements or indentations which would distinguish certain different aspects of a person. A phrenologist would then use measurements of the skull to assess the character and temperament of a patient. It was determined that if one region of the brain was enlarged, then that meant that that specific part was used extensively. The belief was that brain areas would grow when exercised, like muscles. A phrenologist would use his knowledge of the shapes of heads and the positions of each organ to determine natural strengths and weaknesses of a person. It was believed that the head revealed natural tendencies but not limitations or strengths of ones character.

This idea is discredited now because it's well known that bumps on the brain do not imply the development of underlying brain areas. Modern brain scanning techniques show that activity in certain brain tissue or regions do not have any relation to the specific aspects of character or emotions that phrenologists proposed. A few flaws in Gall's proposals consist of the fact that he didn't look at the disconfirming cases and only took into account the confirming cases that played to his strengths. Also, he made many claims based off of only one single striking case where his theories were confirmed. The idea that phrenologists came up with that brain functions are localized in the brain was right, but the actual functions that Gall claimed were completely wrong. It's been proven that the brain involves processes such as moving, touching, hearing, and seeing, not phrenological traits. By looking at modern imaging techniques, some of these processes are localized in certain regions, while others are distributed and interactive. The same techniques have also proven that the claimed phrenological organs do not exist. We can look at phrenology knowing that the size or shape of an individuals head cannot predict what phrenologists claimed that it predicts.

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