If your handwriting slants to the left, does this indicate that you are emotionally withdrawn? Does an ornate, cursive “y” really mean the writer has a perverted state of mind?
Many experts believe so. The process of handwriting analysis, also called graphology, has existed since ancient times and first became recognized as a science in the late 1500s. It has since gained worldwide attention, despite remaining a highly controversial field. Between 1940 and 1995, the New School for Social Research in New York actually offered a diploma in graphology. Even today, it is possible to receive an accredited degree in graphology from several schools worldwide.
But is graphology a legitimate science, or is it simply a shot in the dark? This article will explore the validity of this science and provide evidence and information both for and against the practice of graphology.
-Part 1, Who Uses This Stuff, Anyhow?
Graphology is used by experts worldwide for the purposes of psychological analysis, employee screening, marital compatibility, medical diagnosis, jury selection and even psychic divination.
By and far, the largest and fastest-growing application of graphology is happening in the workplace. Many companies are now taking handwriting samples from prospective and current employees as a means to assess their personality and ensure their placement with compatible co-workers and associates. This practice is, of course, used only to compliment the employer’s existing toolkit of hiring and management resources.
In similar fashion, graphology can be used to calculate the compatibility of a marriage between two individuals. In some countries that practice arranged marriages, a graphological analysis will sometimes be done before the elders will consent to the marriage.
Another use for handwriting analysis, though highly controversial, comes from the medical field. Although not technically graphology, it involves analyzing a patient’s handwriting for a number of factors pertaining to motor control. Things such as timing, fluidity, pressure, size, form and speed are analyzed to evaluate a patient and their response to pharmacological agents. However, the Vanguard Code of Ethical Practice prohibits a medical diagnosis unless one is also licensed to diagnose in the state which they practice.
A lesser known use for graphology was pioneered in France in the 1930s. It is called graphotherapy, and it relates to the process of changing an individual’s personality by changing their handwriting. By the 1950s, this practice had spread to the United States. Graphotherapy includes a series of courses similar to basic calligraphy, and often used in conjunction with music or positive self-talk. There have been reports of graphotherapy curing a number of ailments, including drug addiction, anorexia and even borderline personality disorder!
Forensic document examination, also called questioned document examination, is a common practice in the judicial system. It involves the examination of a document to determine if it was written by the person who is thought to have written it. By definition, forensic document examination is not an aspect of graphology.
Of course, there are many more uses for graphology, but the ones mentioned above are the most common and widely accepted. Some individuals even claim to be able to divine a person’s future through their handwriting, but no evidence has ever been produced to support this claim.
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-Part 2, is it Legal?
The legality of graphology is another source of hot debate. Many people are skeptical of employers or other experts using a non-proven science as a means to evaluate them or place them within a company.
But graphologists claim that handwriting analysis is perfectly legal, citing several court cases.* Also, since handwriting cannot determine gender, age, ethnicity or other protected classes under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it can be considered non-discriminatory. Still, citing ethical grounds, it should never be used without the individual’s consent.
The use of graphology in a court of law was determined in the case of Cameron vs. Knapp (1987). This case concluded that a handwriting analyst may testify in a court of law as to the authenticity of a handwriting sample, but not as to the writer’s physical or mental condition.
-Part 3, The Case For Graphology
Used since ancient times, graphology is based on the principle that the muscles used in writing are linked to our body’s central nervous system. Therefore, a person’s handwriting is not intentionally manipulated can be likened to a “blueprint” of their psychology, personality and even their mood at the time of writing. Since our handwriting is controlled by our brain, it is subconscious and will display the same traits regardless of handedness. Graphology takes into consideration over 300 individual features and how they blend together to form the script. It also includes aspects such as strokes, slant, pressure, size of margins and line slant, all of which have specific interpretations.
Graphologists claim that their practice can provide an exhaustive evaluation of a person’s character, as well as dormant or hidden attributes that would go unnoticed using traditional screening methods. An expert graphologist can make a writer literally “step off the page” without ever even meeting them!
Despite criticism, professional graphologists remain in high demand and organizations worldwide continue to use handwriting analysis, citing its success and high levels of accuracy.
-Part 4, Arguments Against Graphology
Despite some early support and interest from the scientific community, many recent studies and surveys have shown that graphology is not necessarily able to access an individual’s personality and job performance. For example, graphologists were unable to predict scores on the Eyseneck personality questionnaire after being provided writing samples from the same people. A similar study was conducted using the Myers-Briggs test, achieving similar results.
A British psychologist, Dr. Rowan Bayne said “It’s very seductive because at a crude level someone who is neat and well behaved tends to have neat handwriting.” He also added that the practice is “Useless… absolutely hopeless.”
Graphology has also been accused of being intentionally vague in its interpretation of an individual’s handwriting.
Aside from a loose concept personal claims, no empirical or scientific evidence has ever been produced to support graphology as a valid practice.
-Part 5, Summary
I hope this article has been able to shed some light on the issues surrounding handwriting analysis. Whether it is a legitimate practice or not, it remains widely used by a number of people and organizations for a variety of purposes.
* Gilbert v California :388 US 263-267 (1967)
US v Dionisio :410 US 1 (1973) 1973, Lawyers Edition, Second Series 35, 67; 93 SC 774
US v Mara aka Marasovich :410 US 19 (1973)
US v Rosinsky :547 F 2nd 249 ( CA 4th 1977 )
United States v Wade :388 US 218, 221-223 (1967)