What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?

GD asks: “I didn’t see anything on your new age blog, about handwriting analysis. My son will be taking a forensics class and handwriting analysis is something they will be covering. If it is new age do you have any resources that I could show her to explain why it is not appropriate?”

GD, you may be mistaking forensic handwriting analysis with graphology, which is as common as  mistaking an astrologer for an astonomer. Forensic handwriting analysis is a true science, while graphology is a pseudo science. The former deals with authenticating documents and signatures, while the latter is used to allegedly determine a person’s personality traits.

Forensic handwriting analysis is usually performed by a forensic document examiner (FDE) who analyzes handwriting in order to validate a document or signature. The FDE has considerable knowledge of writing instruments, inks, paper, different systems of penmanship (remember Palmer method?) and styles of expression.

Sometimes the FDE will employ these methods to determine who might have written a certain document or if several documents were written by the same person. This may sometimes require chemical analysis of the ink or microscopically examining the fibers and watermark in paper, or looking for distinctive marks left by certain types of writing instruments. The FDE might also compare grammar, style and punctuation to those prevalent during a certain time period, such as what was done to expose the infamous Hitler Diaries as forgeries.

Graphology, on the other hand, takes a giant leap into the unknown (and scientifically unsubstantiated) area of using a person’s handwriting to determine character traits. The principle behind the practice is that people who share certain character and personality traits exhibit similar forms of handwriting.

The graphologist claims to be able to discern a person’s temperament, intelligence, and social traits just by studying their handwriting. They claim to be able to tell if a person is a good leader and reliable and if they are moral and upstanding or cruel, jealous and criminally inclined.

Another big area of their supposed discernment is in the area of sexuality. Graphologists claim there are many clues to a person’s sexuality in their handwriting, such as their sexual orientation, how promiscuous they are, and/or how suitable they might be as a marriage partner.

Although the practice of graphology is centuries’ old, the modern rendition is said to have originated in the studies of Milton Newman Bunker who noticed certain stroke differences in his writing and the writing of others that he associated with personality traits. According to the International Graphoanalysis Society (IGAS), which trains graphologists in the U.S. and Canada, Bunker believed that handwriting was directed by brain impulses that reflect an individual’s personality. After researching specific stroke formations and their corresponding personality traits, he established a standardized procedure which could be taught to others for the purpose of examining character traits reflected in handwriting.

The Bunker theories and techniques have since been perfected by the founders of the IGAS into what they say is a scientific system for analyzing handwriting.

The problem is that most empirical studies have never been able to substantiate any of these claims. This explains why graphology never caught on in the medical/scientific community. To this day, the vast majority of graphologists are trained from books, self-accredited correspondence schools or unaccredited night schools.

“Although I could not find a single reputable textbook in psychological testing that treated graphology with anything but disdain, graphologists still claim to be a misunderstood and unfairly maligned branch of psychology,” writes Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D. for Quackwatch.  “Few graphologists, in my experience, have had anything close to an adequate background in psychological measurement or modern personnel methods.”

Even though graphologists are sensitive to being called fortune tellers, ” . . . (W)hat conceivable value would there be in describing a stranger if it were not assumed that the description would predict how he or she would act in the future?” Beyerstein asks.

But just because graphology and forensic handwriting analysis are two different things doesn’t mean practitioners might not “mix and match” the two – with a forensic analyst employing some graphology techniques. A teacher of forensic analysis might also do this, which is why I recommend that a parent peruse whatever study materials the child may receive from this class, or question them about what exactly is being taught. 

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