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Phrenological head, France, c. 1825

Phrenologists believed the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. This is a plaster copy of a cast from the head of a 24 year-old woman called Victoire. She experienced microcephaly. Microcephaly is a disease in which the brain does not develop normally and her head circumference is therefore reduced. Phrenological heads such as this were used for demonstrations by phrenological lecturers. They were also used for training phrenologists. Phrenology was popular in the 1800s. However, it became controversial within medical circles, and was eventually dismissed by the medical profession as unfounded. Phrenology was still studied in the UK until 1967, when the British Phrenological Society finally closed.

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Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.

Glossary: phrenological head

A representation of a human head, on which the phrenological faculties are illustrated. Phrenologists believed that one could tell personality traits by examining the bumps of the skull. The practice is now regarded as a pseudo-science.