On the peculiarities of the Negro brain

Black peoples’ brains are, of course, no more or less peculiar than those of any other people. The human brain is an extraordinarily complex organ, and there are just as many differences between the brains of people from the same ethnic group as there between the brains of people from different groups.

Some racial peculiarities of the Negro brain is the title of a long and technical paper by the anthropologist Robert Bennett Bean, published in the American Journal of Anatomy in 1906. It is one of a series of scientific papers written by Bean in the early 20th Century, in which he tried to provide scientific evidence of the inferiority of black people.

A descendant of Thomas Jefferson, Bean was born on March 24th, 1874, in a town called Gala in Virginia County. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1904, and, between the years of 1905-1907, was an instructor in anatomy at the University of Michigan. It is during this period of his life that Bean began his investigations into “the Negro brain”.

In his comparisons of the brains of blacks and whites, Bean relied heavily on anthropometry and craniometry. He obtained most of his specimens from the Anatomical Laboratory and the Pathological Department at Johns Hopkins University, and some were given to him by a Dr. Page from the Baltimore City Alms House. Bean obtained 152 brains in total, of which 49 were from blacks, and 103 from whites. He dissected the specimens and drew outlines of individual brains to illustrate his paper. On the left is figure 5. The legend reads:

Negro male, age 45, No. 1681, length 163 cm., large and fat. Vertical, transverse sections. Section not quite transverse. No. 1 about 15 mm. from anterior end of brain; No. 2 about 45 mm. S, superior surface; R, right side. One third natural size.

Bean focuses on the corpus callosum, the bundle of approximately 100 million nerve fibres connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The corpus callosum is divided anatomically into 4 regions. Anteriorly, the genu connects the left and right frontal lobes; the splenium connects the more posterior structures of the two hemispheres. Bean painstakingly tries to demonstrate that the genu is smaller in blacks than in whites, and to relate this to specific traits of both races:

It is generally understood that the posterior association center is objective, while the anterior association center is subjective, the one representing the powers of conception in the concrete, the other, the powers of thought in the abstract. The relative differences [between the brains of blacks and whites] is suggestive in relation to the known to the known characteristics of the two. The Caucasian is subjective, the Negro objective. The Caucasian…is dominant and domineering, and possessed primarily with determination, will power, self-control, self-government…with a high development of the ethical and aesthetic values…[whereas the] Negro is primarily affectionate, immensely emotional, then sensual and under stimulation passionate. There is love of ostentation…love of music, and capacity for melodious atriculation; there is undeveloped artistic power and taste…instability of character incident to lack of self-control, especially in connection with the sexual relation.

Bean was himself surprised by his findings, because the genu also contains olfactory fibres. And, at least according to Bean, we all know that black people have a highly developed sense of smell. That blacks have a smaller genu but a more sensitive sense of smell than white therefore seemed contradictory. So, it follows that in blacks the genu must consist largely of olfactory fibres. Bean took this as evidence of the intellectual inferiority of blacks. More importantly, the size of the genu reflects the relative sixe of the frontal lobes. And, because the frontal lobes are the seat of higher cognitive functions, and of intelligence, blacks must be intellectually inferior to whites.

It is evident that the frontal lobe of the Negro brain is smaller than the frontal lobe of the Caucasian brain. This racial difference has been recognized by anatomists heretofore, but in only a few individual cases has it been emphasized. Even [the great German anatomist Friedrich] Tiedemann, that eminent continental champion of the Negro…does admit that the frontal lobes of the Negro brain are smaller than those of the European.

Like most racists, Bean concentrated on a specific target (black people) but extended his findings to other groups (women and the underprivileged). He found that, in both blacks and whites, the genu was smaller in women than in men. When Bean’s paper was published, brain size was the classic parameter used by craniometrists. But Bean omits comparative measurements of brain size from his paper. He did measure brain size and cranial capacity of blacks and whites, but failed to find any significant differences in his measurements. Bean introduced other factors – sex and social class – to account for his failure to find a difference in brain size. In an addendum at the end of his 1906 paper, he explains:

There is a large number of deaths resulting from acute illnesses and from accidents among the Negroes, giving a large number of brains from normal individuals….a large number of Negro bodies are regularly disposed of to anatomists indicates less respect for the dead among Negroes…it follows that more of the better class of Negroes would be received, since the whites greatly outnumber the blacks in Baltimore. It is well known that only the lowest classes of whites are unclaimed, especially among the women, who are apt to be prostitutes, or depraved, or the like, while among the Negroes it is well known that even the better class neglect their dead…It is a well attested fact that the Negroes are roaming over the country without fixed abode in greater numbers than the whites and this might result in many stray unclaimed bodies of the better classes of Negroes being turned over to anatomists, and finally, many mulattoes and and mixed bloods are included among the Negroes.

Thus, according to Bean, the reason that he found no difference between the brains of blacks and those of whites is because he was measuring the brains of higher classes of blacks with those of the lowest classes of whites. The degenerate whites in his sample suffered from various wasting diseases, which would have a major effect on brain size. And, to complicate matters further, some of the blacks in the sample were of mixed race; having one white parent would, of course, make a black person’s brain more closely resemble that of a white person. Naturally, if one were to use more comparable specimens, the differences between the races would be even clearer.

Bean’s mentor, Franklin P. Mall, who had initially encouraged the study, thought the data were too good, and became suspicious. He therefore made his own comparisons of brains from blacks and whites, and failed to find any difference, even though he performed the same measurements as Bean, and his sample contained 18 brains – 8 from blacks and 10 from whites – used by Bean himself. Of those 18 specimens, Beans measurements of the genu were larger than Moll’s for 7 out of 10 of the brains from whites, but for only 1 out of 8 of the brains from blacks.

In 1914, Bean published another paper, entitled A racial peculiarity in the pole of the temporal lobe of the Negro brain in a journal called Anatomical Record. In this paper, Bean he reached the following conclusions:

The size of the pole of the temporal lobe is less in the Negro than in the white, and less in the Negro female than in the Negro male…The shape of the pole of the temporal lobe is different in the two races, being slightly more slender in the Negro, and almost the same size in the two races antero-posteriorly. The differences are not only absolute but are also relative to the to the weight and size of the entire cerebral hemispheres.

Bean was either extremely deluded, or a fraud, or both. He was certainly a bad scientist, and his methodology is a perfect example of poor scientific practice. His prejudices led him to believe that “the Negro evidently stands in an intermediate position [between]… man and the ourang-outang” (1906, p.380) and he had already reached his conclusion – that blacks are inferior to whites – before undertaking his investigations. Consequently, it was this conclusion that informed his data, and not the data that led him to his conclusion.

>Nevertheless, his work was not restricted to academic journals – it had huge popular appeal. In 1907, one year after the publication of Some racial peculiarities of the Negro brain, an editorial in American Medicine discussse the implications of Bean’s findings on society:

the anatomical basis for the complete failure of of the negro schools to impart the higher studies – the brain cannot comprehend them any more than a horse can understand the rule of three…[and] leaders in all political parties now acknowledge the error of human equality…It may be practicable to rectify the error and remove a menace to our prosperity – a large electorate without brains.

Any rational person will quickly dismiss Bean’s findings as nonsense. The “distinguished” anthropologist manipulated his data to make them fit with his preconceived racist ideas. Unfortunately, his data on the differences between the brains of blacks and whites are still used today by far right extremists to justify their racial hatred.


  1. #1 Caledonian
    July 30, 2007

    This is why impartiality is one of the basic principles of science. If you want to prove something, as opposed to testing something, you cannot perform proper science, because your desire to demonstrate something will tend to cause you to perceive things that way unless scrupulous care is taken to avoid bias.

    This is a point that really needs to be stressed more in the public understanding of science.

  2. #2 Gino
    August 3, 2007

    There are good scientist and bad ones, just like there are good and bad politicians doctors and any other
    The problem with regard to the scientist is that, the esoteric nature of it, does not allow for the public to question the findings and opinions of the scientist. As a result usually takes a very long time for the damaging effects of such irresponsibly deficient works on society to wear.

  3. #3 Nix
    August 14, 2007

    The late lamented Steven Jay Gould wrote an excellent article, _Measuring Heads: Paul Broca and the Heyday of Craniometry_, which features a long description of Bean’s work: it originally appeared in _The Mismeasure of Man_ but has recently been reprinted in an omnibus edition of a lot of Gould’s writings, _The Richness of Life_. (That edition isn’t as good as the original sources because the editor chopped quite a lot out: but it’s a good overview).

  4. #4 tippicanoe and tyler too
    November 2, 2007

    even if such information is correct it may hurt the feelings of those with slightly lacking abilities…. better to be hushed up.

  5. #5 Vanderleun
    December 10, 2007

    Just imagine how stupid a lot of today’s carefully reasoned and researched scientific papers are going to seem in 100 years. Probably sooner.

  6. #6 Kyle
    December 21, 2008

    You should read about Dr Bruce Lahns’ research into genetic differences in race, and how blacks don’t have certain genes that provide a larger more intelligent brain.

  7. #7 Sick of Fake Scientists
    March 9, 2009

    I read that article and it is full of logical holes. The article is about a type of allele mutation that appeared 40,000 years ago in non-black groups that migrated out of Africa. From there on the article links this allele to intelligence with no evidence to back it up. It links this allele to the development of written language with absolutely no scientific backing (and neatly glosses over the fact that written language emerged in some parts of Africa around the same time, such as East Africa, North Africa among Tuaregs and West Africa) and notes that this allele is less frequent in Asia and Latin America. This goes against the racist theory that Asians are supposedly smarter than everyone else. If they were you would think this allele would be more frequent in Asia than anywhere else. The article even claims that there is a direct correlation with brain size and IQ. That’s BS 19th/early 20th century pseudoscience that was debunked years ago. It might as well have delved into “negro craniometry”.

    The fact that the article starts off saying this is what “anti-racists and egalitarians dread” shows the political agenda of the article.

  8. #8 Ben
    August 28, 2009

    Hi there,

    I was just reading this entry and noticed you referred to Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘The Mismeasure of Man’. I am a little surprised at this, given the numerous errors & omissions Gould was found to have made. Bean’s work may well be wrong, but if Gould is the only source then I would take it with a grain of salt. Here is a brief summary of some of the problems with Mismeasure:

    1. Gould’s allegation that Morton had doctored his skull collection was re-investigated by John Michael. Michael found very few errors & those that were found were not in the direction Gould claimed. Michael found Gould was mistaken & that Morton’s studies were conducted with integrity. Michael JS 1988. A new look at Morton’s craniological research. Current Anthropology 29: 349- 54.

    In his 1996 edition of Mismeasure Gould didn’t comment on Michael’s paper.

    2. Gould’s central argument against hereditarians happens to be based on his gross misunderstanding of the position he is criticizing. He says, “a reified Spearman’s g is still the only promising justification for hereditarian theories of mean differences in IQ among human groups …. The chimerical nature of g is the rotten core of Jensen’s edifice, and of the entire hereditarian school.” (Gould 1981, 320) In reality, Jensen’s views on the genetic explanation of racial differences in IQ are totally independent from the question whether there is only one factor of general intelligence (so-called g). Here is what James Flynn, a consistent critic of Jensen, has to say on the matter:

    “Gould’s book evades all of Jensen’s best arguments for a genetic component in the black-white IQ gap, by positing that they are dependent on the concept of g as a general intelligence factor. Therefore, Gould believes that if he can discredit g, no more need be said. This is manifestly false. Jensen’s arguments would bite no matter whether blacks suffered from a score deficit on one or 10 or 100 factors. I attribute no intent or motive to Gould, it is just that you cannot rebut arguments if you do not acknowledge and address them.”

    3. Gould criticises the idea that brain volume could be related to cognitive ability, but ignored a literature review by Van Valen (1974) which estimated an overall correlation of 0.30 between brain size and intelligence. With MRI scans this evidence continued to accumulate through the 80′s.

    Rather than address this evidence, Gould’s 1996 edition simply deletes the section of the 1981 edition that discussed the brain-size/IQ relation.

    Recently Richard Haier, at Brain Research Institute, UC Irvine College of Medicine, found that general human intelligence appears to be correlated with the volume and location of gray matter tissue in the brain.

    For a summary of the neurobiological correlates with ‘g’ see this summary by UCLA neuroscientist Paul Thompson

    4. Gould’s criticism of factor analysis (and ‘g’) is flawed: see John Carroll’s review Intelligence 21, 121-134 1995 and also Jensen Contemporary Education Review Summer 1982, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 121- 135.

    David J. Bartholomew, from London School of Economics, who has written a textbook on factor analysis, also explains in “Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies” explains where Gould goes wrong in this area.

    5. Gould suggests that Jews tested poorly in the 1920′s & this lead to the Immigration Act 1924. Both are incorrect.

    6. The idea that Jews tested poorly is actually based on a misrepresentation of a paper authored by Henry Goddard in 1917. Goddard gave IQ tests to people suspected of being mentally handicapped. He found the tests identified a number of such people from various immigrant groups, including Ashkenazi Jews. Leon Kamin in 1974 reported that Goddard had found Jews had low IQ scores. However, Goddard never found that Jews or other groups as a general population had low scores. There is other information that contradicts the idea that Jews did poorly on IQ tests around this time. In 1900, in London, Jews took a disproportionate number of academic prizes in spite of their poverty (C Russell & H.S. Lewis ‘The Jew in London’ Harper Collins 1900). Also, note that by 1922 Jewish students made up more than a fifth of Harvard undergraduates & the Ivy League was already instituting policies aimed at limiting Jewish admissions (the infamous ‘Jewish quotas’). Also, a 1920′s a survey of IQ scores in three London schools with mixed Jewish & non-Jewish student bodies – one prosperous, one poor and one very poor – showed that Jewish students, on average, had higher IQ’s than their schoolmates in each of the groups (A Hughes 1928).

    - see also: G. Cochran, J. Hardy, H. Harpending, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659-693 (2006).

    7. The other misconception is that this contributed to the 1924 Immigration Act. However, Herrnstein & Snyderman found this was not the case (Intelligence Tests and the Immigration Act of 1924′ American Psychologist 38, September 1983).

    8. Although it was claimed Cyril Burt made up data for his twin studies, subsequent investigations have cast doubt on this. See the book Cyril Burt ‘Fraud or Framed’, edited by Nick Mackintosh former Chair of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

    9. Burt’s findings regarding hereditary appear to be very consistent with subsequent twin studies (see work by Bouchard or Robert Plomin).

    10. In the first edition Gould noted that “the only really natural experiment for separating genetic from environmental effects in humans [is] genetically identical individuals raised in disparate environments. Studies of identical twins raised apart should therefore hold pride of place in literature on inheritance of IQ.”

    Gould repeated that statement verbatim (page 264) in the 1996 reissue. He completely ignored the fact that by far the most extensive and careful study of identical twins raised apart from infancy in different families in different social environments had been begun in 1979 and its results were widely reported well before 1996. The only reason that Gould could have had for ignoring the Minnesota Twin Study is that he could not refute its results and he knew he could rely on the ignorance of reviewers in the popular press.



  9. #9 Richard
    May 24, 2011

    Perhaps if the doubters quit watching TV and actually read the research on the subject they just might find that the truth (no matter how uncomfortable for the closed mind) is that yes, the Negro is intellectually inferior to both Caucasians and Orientals. And this intellectual deficiency is bio-genetic in origin and to a significant degree not remedial to social/environmental enhancement.

  10. #10 Sebastian
    May 24, 2011

    Richard, you forgot to add [citation needed] to the end of your comment.

  11. #11 russell
    May 24, 2011

    humans started leaving africa around 200,000 years ago.

    thats enough time for ~10,000 generations. TEN THOUSAND generations of people splitting off into different environments and social groups.

    its obvious that there are differences between the races. just look at skin color, muscle mass, height, etc. anyone with eyes can see this.

    personally i’m surprised there is no concrete data out on this. it isn’t that hard to study. shouldn’t be, anyways.

    perhaps, people are worried that if they look into it actively, and find some concrete differences, it will just add fuel to the fire. their concerns are probably valid.

  12. #12 Philippe Rushton
    June 10, 2011

    @Sebastian, he dun need it, I vouch for it LOL and if you want citation just take any of my paparz LOL