Is it true that handwriting betrays a person’s character, temperament and other traits?
Handwriting is a mysterious thing: many are convinced that one can be judged by the cues he writes. On the occasion of Handwriting Day in the United States – January 23, TASS has tried to find out if this is really the case. At school, children learn to write one pattern, but each writes differently. These features are so characteristic that people still support agreements with signatures and present the results of expertise in court to prove the authorship of manuscripts. It is easy to conclude that because handwriting is individual, it contains information about individuality: not only to whom it belongs, but also what kind of person it is. This idea gained popularity in the Romantic era in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Writer Edgar Allan Poe, editor of Graham’s Magazine, analyzed the handwriting of famous writers and published notes in the journal with his conclusions. The dashes and curves of those he did not like were honored with insulting epithets, such as “written by the hands of the most ordinary official.” Neurotics prefer whiskey, the lucky ones – beer. What does the choice of alcohol say about the character? In the second half of the 19th century, the French priest Jean-Hippolyte Michon tried to introduce a scientific basis in the interpretation of handwriting. In 1871 he began to publish the journal Graphology, and later published several books describing his method. Michon’s ideas were later taken up in Germany. There they mingled with the theories of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, and after World War II returned to America and Britain, where they were further developed. Nowadays, graphology is widespread everywhere. What are graphologists looking for in handwriting? In ordinary notions, graphologists define character by handwriting, but their work is not limited to this. Specialists in this field are ready to judge temperament, type of thinking, level of intelligence and personality development, emotional maturity, characteristics of the nervous system, mental and physical health, weaknesses and strengths at work, compatibility of spouses and much more. Such diagnostics are often performed by psychologists at work and for career guidance.
“Handwriting can be used to analyze how a person lives, perceives, reacts and adapts to the world around him,” says graphologist Larisa Drigval, Ph.D. According to her, fine motor skills depend on the activity of the psyche – this is why a kind of writing of symbols arises. “It is ridiculous to deny the connection between the brain and fine motor skills when writing. Handwriting is an expression of micro-gestures specific to a particular person with specific behavioral patterns,” said another graphologist, Irina Bukhareva. Graphologists are convinced that the handwriting is self-sufficient and no additional observations and tests for expertise are needed. However, Larisa Drigval’s analysis also takes into account biological age and gender to determine the psychological maturity and response of the world: “male” or “female”. Irina Bukhareva also asks about gender and age, as well as with which hand the person writes, what vision he has, whether there are injuries or diseases that can affect writing, whether he takes strong medications. All this is taken into account in the analysis.
A little experiment
It turns out that in deft hands handwriting is an invaluable tool for understanding the person. Not surprisingly, the CIA was interested in him: the security of the people and the state sometimes depended on the conclusions of agents and analysts. It is true that a declassified report entitled ‘Graphology Assessment’ called into question its effectiveness. Speaking in principle of all methods of assessing personality, the author of the Rundqvist report speaks of the so-called Barnum effect (also known as the Forer effect) – “the best friend of charlatans.” The essence of the Barnum effect is this: if you give a person a vague description of someone, but tell him that it was prepared for him, then such a description will seem very accurate. Rundqvist once demonstrated this effect to a dozen European spies. He asked them to write something on paper, waited, and then gave them personal characteristics. Ten out of 12 people agreed with them, and then realized that the conclusion was the same for everyone – Rundqvist took it from a German newspaper. A similar experiment was conducted in the editorial office of TASS. Ten journalists provided samples of their handwriting. The next day, they received the results of two “examinations” and assessed how accurate they were. Each contained 12 statements. One “expertise” was taken from a graphologist’s website from a report on a confused man, the other from an Aquarius horoscope in an astrological website. Colleagues did not know about the trick – they thought that experts would analyze their handwriting.
In the first conclusion, all ten people fully or partially agreed with two statements: they consider themselves meticulous performers, they believe that they take life seriously, they are responsible and organized, but they are not without weaknesses. You can probably say the same about yourself. Of the other ten statements, the majority disagreed with only one. The horoscope gave the same picture, except that all journalists fully or partially agreed not with two, but with four statements about themselves. Of course, the experiment does not meet strict scientific standards and the results must be interpreted with caution. Maybe journalists just don’t know themselves well and have accepted the opinion of “authorities”. Or maybe they really look alike and it’s just a coincidence.
The reliability of graphological methods is also periodically checked by scientists. Graphologists like to say that many studies should dispel skeptics’ doubts about the accuracy of handwriting analysis. This is an exaggeration. Psychologists Carla Daci and Luigi Pedrabisi of the University of Padua write that there is no consensus in the scientific community on graphology. Most of the scientific papers advocating for handwriting analysis are from the 1970s and 1990s or even earlier. These are mainly studies that test the ability of graphologists to predict people’s success in work and study. But even in terms of staff selection, the results are mixed. Psychologists Efrat Netter and Gershon Ben-Shahar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem processed the results of 17 studies. A total of 63 graphologists and 51 people without special training took part in them, who were also given handwritten texts for verification. It turned out that lay people predicted the future success of job candidates even better than graphologists, especially when the text contained biographical information.
Handwriting analysis was even less useful for determining personality traits and levels of intelligence. Researchers at University College London conducted two experiments in which students performed psychological tests to assess their personality and intelligence. The results were compared with the findings of graphologists who examined only the manuscripts. The handwriting experts failed: their conclusions turned out to be true no more often than by chance. The aforementioned Daci and Pedrabisi conducted similar experiments and also found no evidence that graphological analysis could say anything about personality. Not surprisingly, the British Psychological Society puts graphology on a par with astrology in terms of the reliability of the results.
Maybe some information about the person is really hidden in the handwriting. This hypothesis has not been refuted, and writing really involves areas of the brain that, among other things, affect personality and intelligence. But, apparently, if something important is hidden in the notes on the paper, the graphologists are not able to recognize it. They simply creatively explain what they see with the help of metaphors, analogies and symbols. Simplicity can be deceptive As an advantage of handwriting analysis Larisa Drigval and Irina Bukhareva point out simplicity: to conduct a graphological examination, a person is only required to sit, relax and write half a page of text – no need to go somewhere , and the specialist does not need expensive equipment – except perhaps the microscope used by graphologists to peek into the lines of paper. But simplicity can be deceptive. CIA analyst Rundqvist advises assessing a person’s biography, education, jobs, social status, income and the like. Psychologists use questionnaires with hundreds of questions and conduct long interviews, sometimes several times, to determine personality traits, problems, and inclinations, and special tests have been developed to measure intelligence. These methods take a lot of effort, time and allow only approximate conclusions to be drawn, but nothing better has been invented yet. In general, we have a few accurate answers for ourselves and for each other, but that doesn’t make simplicity any better.