Phrenology is a pseudomedicine primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. At one point there was a belief that phrenology could revolutionize the criminal justice system. Nobody really believes that the shape of our heads are a window into our personalities anymore. But the idea which was developed by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796 was hugely popular in the 19th century. So what about a modern version of phrenology?
As risk assessment tools become ever more integral to the criminal justice system, some neuroscientists are looking to the brain to aid in the effort. They call it “neuroprediction,” the science of using MRIs to determine whether someone is likely to commit more crime. Critics warn the science is not ready for prime time. Defense attorneys worry it will make juries less sympathetic. But proponents say neuroprediction accounts for differences in individual brains much better than a broad category like age does. In collaboration with Tonic, Andrew Calderon has the story.