Monday, November 21, 2016

How did Gall Identify his 27 Faculties?

Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), a founding father of phrenology

Phrenology was the pseudoscience of identifying a person's character and mental abilities on the basis of skull morphology (“bumps on the head”). The enterprise was based on four assumptions (Gross, 2009):
  1. intellectual abilities and personality traits are differentially developed in each individual
  2. these abilities and traits reflect faculties that are localized in specific organs of the cerebral cortex
  3. the development or prominence of these faculties is a function of the activity and therefore the size of the cortical organ
  4. the size of each cortical organ is reflected in the prominence of the overlying skull (i.e., in cranial bumps).

Gall originally identified 27 such faculties on the basis of rather flimsy and idiosyncratic evidence. His protege Johann Spurzheim upped the ante to 35 (or 37), which is what is seen on most phrenology heads.

A new article by Eling, Finger, & Whitaker (2016) reviews Gall's organology (as he called it)1 and summarizes the “history of discovery” of the 27 faculties in a handy table.2

Eling et al. consulted the 1835 English translation of Gall's original work (Sur les fonctions du cerveau et sur celles de chacune de ses parties) entitled, On the functions of the brain and of each of its parts: with observations on the possibility of determining the instincts, propensities, and talents, or the moral and intellectual dispositions of men and animals, by the configuration of the brain and head. Like its French counterpart, this tome is available from

Oh here's a highlight. During a lecture, Gall realized the analogy between the skulls of monkeys and women, thereby christening “love of offspring”.

- click on image for a larger view -

In the rest of the paper Eling et al (2016) focus on musical ability, in particular how a five year old girl known as Bianchi influenced Gall's thinking.


1 “Organology; or, An exposition of the instincts, propensities, sentiments, and talents, or the moral qualities, and the fundamental intellectual faculties in man and animals, and the seat of their organs.”

2 The original table included a column with volume and page numbers for extended descriptions of each of the faculties. In the interest of space, I omitted this.


Eling, P., Finger, S., & Whitaker, H. (2016). On the Origins of Organology: Franz Joseph Gall and a Girl Named Bianchi Cortex DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2016.11.010

Further Reading

Phrenology, Then and Now

The Return of Physiognomy

Phrenology Resources

The History of Phrenology on the Web
The Phrenological Chart
The Phenomenon of Phrenology

Charles C. Gross (2009). Phrenology. In: Encyclopedia of Neuroscience.

The Cerebral Science of Phrenology

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