An empirical, 21st century evaluation of phrenology.
Parker Jones O., Alfaro-Almagro F., Jbabdi S.
Phrenology was a nineteenth century endeavour to link personality traits with scalp morphology, which has been both influential and fiercely criticised, not least because of the assumption that scalp morphology can be informative of underlying brain function. Here we test the idea empirically rather than dismissing it out of hand. Whereas nineteenth century phrenologists had access to coarse measurement tools (digital technology referring then to fingers), we were able to re-examine phrenology using 21st century methods and thousands of subjects drawn from the largest neuroimaging study to date. High-quality structural MRI was used to quantify local scalp curvature. The resulting curvature statistics were compared against lifestyle measures acquired from the same cohort of subjects, being careful to match a subset of lifestyle measures to phrenological ideas of brain organisation, in an effort to evoke the character of Victorian times. The results represent the most rigorous evaluation of phrenological claims to date.