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 Anatomyin 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”.

bean_fig5.JPG

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, these data on the differences between the brains of blacks and whites are still used today by far right extremists to justify the racial hatred that they preach.

References:

Bean, R. B. (1906). Some racial peculiarities of the Negro brain. Am J. Anat. 5: 353-432. [PDF]

Bean, R. B. (1914). A racial peculiarity in the pole of the temporal lobe of the Negro brain. Anat. Rec. 8: 479-491. [Abstract]

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23 thoughts on “On the peculiarities of the Negro brain

  1. Thanks for the interesting post, MC!

    The notion of intellectual inferiority is always an open door for war and wasted talent. It seems to me to be a better use of time to look at the amazing proclivities of people in any race and then communicate with people in a way that respects them – so that we can learn more from them.

    That is the beginning of intellectual maturity between any two races. Bean’s study shows me we have a long way to go.

  2. The first sentence of the third paragraph is an amazing documentation of time travel: Bean was born 141 years after(!) his purported descendant, Thomas Jefferson.

  3. A great post – this period paper, combined with a little reading from Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man,” would make a great science & society lecture. It’s mindboggling that these scientists might have honestly thought they were objective, when they so conspicuously massaged their data every which way to prove that European men were superior to European women, and to both genders of every other ethnic group. I fear Bean’s cultural prejudices were so entrenched, he might really have thought he was doing good science. Whoa.

    Now, about that last prediction that we’d eventually have a “large electorate without brains”. . . given the current state of our country, I might have to agree – but hardly for the reasons Bean proposed!

  4. Bioephemera – Bean’s views were not at all controversial at the time.

    I referred to Gould’s book while writing the post, and should really have included it in the references.

  5. Despite all the claims of racial equality, test scores speak volumes. And all the rhetoric about equality is just circumlocution around the fact of racial abilities and deficits.

    Until we see as many negro physicists as jewish physicists, I wont believe in the equality of the races.

  6. William Shockley,the co-inventor of transistor, along with Bardeen and Brattain, in his later life did some research akin to this. He was badly criticized for his works. But cant quite disagree with Paul too, as it remains to be seen and understood why there is a dearth of negro Physics Nobel Laureates .

  7. http://theoccidentalquarterly.com/vol2no1/jpr-taxonomic.html

    There are truths before our eyes that we deny. We hesitate to discuss in in polite conversation and generally avoid it. But it is still there staring us squarely in the face. To even broach the subject is to invite criticism and be labeled racist.

    Check out some recent studies that are not racist but factual and are backed up with plenty of documentation. The studies were conducted from the 1980′s to 2000. None of them relied on any of Bean’s work.

    It is written by J. Philippe Rushton is professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario and the author of Race,Evolution and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (3rd Edition).

    http://theoccidentalquarterly.com/vol2no1/jpr-taxonomic.html

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  9. It would be very interesting if someone really checked which regions of the African brain are smaller than the Caucasian.
    Right now we still only know that the overall volume is less. Smaller frontal lobes is certainly a reasonable hypothesis.

  10. From a specie standpoint intelligence maybe more correllated to the ratio of brain mass to body mass, (up to a certain point – say a mouse)?

    Perhaps racial differences in intelligence may not be so black and white. ;-) After taking into account nature vs nurture, what about serum testosterone levels?

    What about genetic structure? If only a 5% difference between chimp and man, does this not speak volumes about the importance of even the smallest measured difference between racial genomes? Vive le difference.

  11. As a mixed race man, I certainly don’t find it hard to digest that the brains of different races have evolved differently, each with varying abilities over time. The largest part of our existence on this planet has been spent under absolute domination by nature, and the idea of separate development within separate earthly regions strikes me as common sense.

    But I still don’t think that intelligence tests are based on a satisfactory understanding of intelligence, and brain scans fail to present the full picture, in view of the neuroscientists’ postulation that most of the mind’s capacity lies unused. Why is a dearth of negro physicists any more significant than an apparent abundance of geniused negro musicians? Similarly African culture fixates on the spoken word, Jewish on the written word. Language and alphabet seems to influence the conceptualising ability as strongly as the reverse dynamic.

    In an overpoliticised climate of discourse where the most fleeting reference to race, sexuality or gender causes ears to burn and assassins to pounce, science should stand as a rock of hard knowledge in this turbulent sea, opposing all presumption and lazy theorising. What is known beyond all reasonable doubt, report. And report all possibile reasons as to why, from nutrition to overarching lifestyle factors and culture.

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  13. I purchased a biography about Dr. Ben Carson because I was so intrigued, honored, and proud that a young black man had accomplished so much to help mankind! Below I copied an article to share:

    BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a report today about one of the most prominent pediatric neurosurgeons in the world: Dr. Ben Carson. He’s probably best known for his surgeries to separate conjoined twins. Carson talks about his work and his Seventh-day Adventist faith in a new book out this month called TAKE THE RISK. Kim Lawton reports.

    KIM LAWTON: Ben Carson knows a lot about risk. As one of the leading pediatric neurosurgeons in the world, Carson makes life and death decisions nearly every day, and he has gained international fame for his work separating twins joined at their heads. Carson believes risk can be a good thing. But he says most Americans are obsessed with security.

    Dr. BEN CARSON (Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions): A lot of people simply don’t realize their potential because they’re just so risk adverse. They just don’t want to take the risk.

    LAWTON: Carson is a committed Seventh-day Adventist. He says when he makes his own risk assessments, he seeks guidance from God.

    Dr. CARSON: I pray before I go into the operating room for every case, and I ask him to give me wisdom, to help me to know what to do — and not only for operating, but for everything.

    Dr. Ben Carson
    LAWTON: Faith and risk have defined Carson’s life, both personally and professionally. He directs pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to his work with conjoined twins, Carson has pioneered surgical techniques to stop seizures. Not bad for a kid from inner-city Detroit whom many people would have written off.

    Dr. CARSON: I was definitely an at-risk kid growing up. You know, my parents got divorced early on. My mother only had a third-grade education, was illiterate, worked as a domestic two to three jobs at a time because she didn’t want to be on welfare. I was considered the dummy in the classroom when I was in 5th grade, and I just didn’t believe that I could do the work, so I engaged myself, you know, by creating disturbances.

    LAWTON: His mother, Sonya Carson, prayed for wisdom on how to help her two sons. She mandated that they write two book reports a week for her.

    Dr. CARSON: Not knowing she couldn’t read, I mean, she would highlight and checkmark and stuff, and we’d think she was reading them. But she could always discuss them with you. She said, “Let’s talk about your book report.” It only really took a month maybe before I started to enjoy the reading. Something happened. I got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get home and read my books.

    LAWTON: He began seeing a future for himself. But Carson says he faced another challenge — his explosive temper. He was often getting in fights. Then, when he was 14, he tried to stab a friend but the knife blade hit the boy’s belt buckle.

    Dr. CARSON: It dawned upon me at that moment I was trying to kill somebody over nothing, and, you know, I locked myself in the bathroom and I just started thinking about it and I said, you’re not going to accomplish your dream of becoming a doctor; you’re going to end up in jail or reform school or dead.

    “Carson still reads from the Book of Proverbs every day”
    LAWTON: He says he prayed for God’s help and then picked up a Bible, which opened to the Book of Proverbs and verses about anger. He believes God took away his temper and enabled him to become a surgeon. Carson still reads from the Book of Proverbs every day. He says it is part of his spiritual preparation for surgery.

    Dr. CARSON: My strong belief is that God created human beings and therefore he knows about every aspect of the human body. So if I want to fix it, I just need to stay in harmony with him.

    LAWTON: For Carson, surgery is often a spiritual experience.

    Dr. CARSON: When I look at the human brain I’m still in awe of it. Every single time you lift off the bone and open the durra, and there it is, the human brain, the thing that gives a person a personality, that distinguishes each one of us. I don’t particularly like, you know, cutting the brain. It’s such a beautiful thing, why cut it? And I’m not even sure I like surgery. But I like what it does.

    LAWTON: Seeing the mechanics of the body, he says, has taught him about the non-tangible aspects of life.

    Dr. CARSON: We are more than just flesh and bones. There’s a certain spiritual nature and something of the mind that we can’t measure. We can’t find it. With all our sophisticated equipment, we cannot monitor or define it, and yet it’s there.

    Conjoined twins, Ladan and Laleh Bijani
    LAWTON: Carson has had many high-profile cases. In his new book, TAKE THE RISK, he describes one of the toughest decisions of his career. In 2003, he was asked to be part of a surgical team trying to separate 29-year-old Iranian twins whose skulls were fused together. The surgery had a less than 50 percent chance of success. Carson was reluctant, but then he met Ladan and Laleh Bijani.

    Dr. CARSON: They said, “Doctor, we would rather die than spend another day together.” And, you know, that kind of takes you aback. But then I put myself in their place and I said what if you were stuck to the person you liked the most in the world 24/7 and you could never get away from them for even one second? And I realized what they were going through.

    “For Carson, surgery is often a spiritual experience.”
    LAWTON: He ultimately decided to be part of the controversial surgery, which took place in Singapore.

    Dr. CARSON: It became very clear as time went on that they were going to go through with the operation whether I helped or not. So at that point, you know, I started thinking there’s not a very good chance of success here, so I’d better go and help, because if they die I’m going to wonder for the rest of my life if it could have turned out differently if I would have helped.

    LAWTON: Despite his help, after more than 50 hours of surgery Ladan died, and then Laleh died 90 minutes after that.

    Dr. CARSON: I always say if God didn’t allow any bad things to happen, we would already be in heaven, and we are not there. That’s where trust and faith comes in. You just say, “Lord, I don’t understand it. But one thing I do know is that you understand it and that you are in control and I trust you.” And that’s the end of the story.

    LAWTON: At 56, he says he has seen many miracles, too. It’s tough to keep up with him as he visits his many patients in the pediatric intensive care unit. His staff calls this the “lightning rounds.” And despite the pace, there’s always time for a personal word with the patients and a hug from grateful families. And he has been forced to face his own mortality. In 2002, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After treatment, Carson says he’s now cancer-free.

    In 2004, Carson was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics
    Carson tries to have an impact outside the operating room. In 2004, he was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics, and Carson has become a vocal advocate for health insurance reform.

    Dr. CARSON: I see the insurance issue, the coverage of people for healthcare in our country, as a huge moral issue. And, you know, for the richest country in the world to have 47 million people without health insurance is ridiculous.

    LAWTON: One of Carson’s greatest passions is encouraging education, especially for at-risk kids. He and his wife have started a national scholarship program called the Carson Scholars Fund.

    Dr. CARSON: If we can take young people who excel at the highest levels, put them on the same kind of pedestal as the all-state basketball player and the all-state football player, and begin to get the same kind of recognition, it will have a profound effect, and we are finding that it does.

    LAWTON: He admits one big danger for neurosurgeons can be developing a God-complex.

    Dr. CARSON: You’re going into these incredibly delicate places that control who people are, and you’ve got to have a fair ego to think you can do that. But for me personally, I realize where it all comes from. All the good things come from God. I can’t really claim any of them, and I just feel privileged that I was dealt a measure of the healing arts.

    LAWTON: Faith may be a risk, he says, but it’s the best risk of all. I’m Kim Lawton in Baltimore.

  14. It never ceases to amaze me that certain people have the nerve to comment on ideas they have nothing about. That people to this day think that their race is superior. Paul you speak about test scores but I doubt you know about African immigrants that CONSTANTLY outscore Asian and White European citizens. You seem to speak about a subject you know nothing about, Not a peep about the Cornell study nor the 2000 U.S census results.

    Mind telling me and our viewers on this blog…

    an you prove “race” as biologically valid

    * Can you, by extension, prove “race” is connected, genetically, to intelligence and the genes responsible for intelligence and race

    * How “genetic” differences automatically implies “racial” differences and not “population” or “regional” tendencies. And how the racial construct fits in with genes.

    * How European populations can be genetically and intellectually superior when African immigrants out-perform them in the major socio-economic indicators of success: education and income, and it has been shown in a recent study they are less genetically fit than those of recent African ancestry.

    Also please tell me how Africans were able to function and thrive on their own before Europeans and Arabs came to Rape and pillage Africa. I wish you people had stayed out of Africa and lived in your dirty, filthy over crowded cities…drinking feces out of the only drinking water source that you supposed Superior people thew in.

    Oh and as far as Physics and the African people…
    http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/physics/physics-peeps.html

    Second there is no such thing as a Negro. Africans are a diverse range of people and a “Negro” is not a race.

    Dion how can the African more on the Spoken word, when the oldest written language is that of the Egyptians found the southern regions. How is that possible when the Jews(Phonecians) received their alphabet from Egyptians(Africans). How is that possible when the Nubians developed their own written language before Europeans? When the West African Ghana adopted the Arabic script to help function their highly organized government, when Askia Toure of Songhai made it mandatory for the population to be Educated and literate.

  15. The funny thing about it is that he was 1/8 African. He was the descendant of one of many slaves Thomas Jefferson impregnated! Sally Hemings was his great grandmother. Jefferson had several children who chose to live their lives as white people!

  16. There is now something we call the human genom projekt which found nothing like racial differences within our genom, that to say what we have is something like population groups and they are as well by no means uniform.

  17. Carl

    Thats not true at all. The DNA of different races show small differences that lead to large gaps. Blacks have 15% lower IQ than whites and east asians top the list.

    Im guessing blacks are more right brained, so they suck at science/math but are good artists/fighters and left handed like Obama. They have a dominant personality within relationships and dark skin attracts light skinned females because they consider them to be “virile, dangerous, etc”

  18. Donnie Darko is saying that the Egyptians were black, no such luck Donnie. They were white, Ramesses had red hair, you can’t get much whiter than that.
    Where the Egyptians went wrong was interbreeding with Nubians, just like the Portuguese of later times, both went from being world powers (Portugal held half of the new world at one time) to the most backward countries in their area.

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