Cephalic index

From WikiMD's Wellness Encyclopedia

Cephalic index
Cephalic index map of Europe by Bertil Lundman, 1993
PSM V59 D404 Cephalic indexes of skull shapes
Otmaa1917 1-1-
PSM V50 D602 World cephalic index map

Cephalic Index is a numerical value derived from the measurement of the breadth and length of a human head. It is calculated by dividing the maximum width of the head by its maximum length (i.e., from the back to the forehead), and the quotient is then multiplied by 100. This index is used to categorize human skulls into various types based on their shape, which is an aspect of physical anthropology and craniofacial anthropometry.

History[edit | edit source]

The concept of the cephalic index was first introduced by Anders Retzius (1796–1860), a Swedish anthropologist, in the 19th century. Retzius hoped to apply the cephalic index in the study of human evolution, race, and intelligence. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cephalic index was widely used in the field of anthropology to support classifications of races, often in a hierarchical manner that placed European or Caucasian skulls at the top. This application has since been discredited and is considered a part of scientific racism.

Types[edit | edit source]

Based on the cephalic index, skulls can be classified into three main types:

  • Dolichocephalic: Long and narrow heads with a cephalic index of less than 75.
  • Mesaticephalic: Medium width and length heads with a cephalic index between 75 and 80.
  • Brachycephalic: Short and wide heads with a cephalic index above 80.

Measurement and Significance[edit | edit source]

The cephalic index is measured using calipers with one end placed at the widest point of the head and the other at the most prominent part of the forehead. This measurement is significant not only in anthropology but also in medicine, particularly in the diagnosis of certain cranial deformities such as plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis. In these conditions, the cephalic index can help in assessing the severity of the deformity and monitoring the effectiveness of treatment.

However, the use of the cephalic index as a measure of intelligence, temperament, or racial superiority is scientifically invalid and has been thoroughly discredited. Modern anthropology and genetics have shown that such traits are influenced by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and cannot be determined by simple physical measurements.

Controversy[edit | edit source]

The cephalic index has been a subject of controversy, particularly in its historical use to justify eugenics and racial discrimination. The index was part of a broader trend in the 19th and early 20th centuries of attempting to classify humans into races based on physical characteristics, a practice now recognized as pseudoscientific and harmful.

Current Applications[edit | edit source]

Today, the cephalic index is used primarily in medical contexts, particularly in the fields of pediatric medicine and craniofacial surgery, where it serves as a diagnostic tool rather than a means of racial classification. It is also of interest in the study of human evolution, where it provides insights into the adaptation of human populations to different environments.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD