Nobody really believes that the shape of our heads are a window into our personalities anymore. This idea, known as “phrenonolgy," was developed by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796 and was hugely popular in the 19th century. Today it is often remembered for its dark history—being misused in its later days to back racist and sexist stereotypes, and its links with Nazi eugenics.
But despite the fact that it has fallen into disrepute, phrenology as a science has never really been subjected to rigorous, neuroscientific testing. That is, until now.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have hacked their own brain scanning software to explore—for the first time—whether there truly is any correspondence between the bumps and contours of your head and aspects of your personality. The results have recently been published in an open science archive, but have also been submitted to the journal Cortex.
But why did phrenologists think that bumps on your head might be so informative? Their enigmatic claims were based around a few general principles. Phrenologists believed the brain was comprised of separate “organs” responsible for different aspects of the mind, such as for self-esteem, cautiousness, and benevolence.