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Identity &
Identity Crime

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section heading icon     graphology

This page discusses character identification on the basis of handwriting.

It covers -

It supplements discussion elsewhere on this site regarding Identity and biometrics.


Graphology - aka grapho-analysis - purports to determine a person's character (eg honesty, loyalty, independence, jealousy) and other attributes (eg creativity, aptitude for financial analysis, sexual orientation) through analysis of that individual's handwriting. Typically the analysis involves scrutiny of handwritten text - what appears on paper - without observation of how the person gets the ink or graphite onto the paper.

Some enthusiasts assert that an accurate and meaningful analysis can be provided without access to information regarding the individual's left/righthandedness, age, ethnicity, health and other circumstances or without any consideration of the content of the writing (eg syntax). Others, like all good fortune-tellers, request background information that will serve as clues for interpreting what the questioner wants or likely characteristics of the author.

Acceptance of graphology is culturally determined, reflecting its basis as a system of belief - with mantras such as "the pen is the tongue of the mind", "handwriting is x-rays of the mind", is "brainprints" or "brainwriting" - rather than a science founded on principles susceptible to empirical validation. As a result there is significant variation in use of graphology by business, government and individuals. A "large" - although unquantified - number of French businesses for example (including Air France, FNAC and Moulinex) are reported to use graphologists in recruitment and promotion decisions.

Although there appears to be some reliance on graphology among Australian, UK and US organisations - primarily among single-owner small businesses - it is likely to remain a human resource tool that is viewed as exotic or simply derided as akin to consulting a Ouija board, the intestines of a goat or a Scientologist's e-meter.

     signs and wonders

What do graphologists look for (apart from cues provided by the person who has engaged their services or inferences on the basis of the text)?

Proponents of the 'analytic' approach - now superseded after being readily debunked - attribute specific traits on the basis of isolated "graphological signs" or "movements", such as location of dots on i's and crosses on t's.

Abbe Jean-Hyppolyte Michon based his analysis on "elements" in handwriting - the formation and location of the 'stroke', 'letters', free movements (dots and crosses), 'the 'words', 'baseline', 'flourishes', 'paragraphs', 'punctuation' and 'paragraphs'. Michon claimed that a particular movement represented a specific feature of the individual's character, with the absence of that sign signalling the contrary feature.

In contrast, proponents of the 'holistic' or 'integrative' approach advocated by Jules Crépieux-Jamin (1859-1940) rely on a less mechanical parsing of the script, claiming that character is signalled through the combination and frequency of those signs and attributes such as letter size and spacing between words. They claim an affinity with the gestalt psychology of Koffka and peers in the 1920s and 1930s, advising on the basis of an impressionistic "resonance" with the script.

One cannot, it seems, have too many signs and Crépieux-Jamin in L'Écriture et le Caractère (1888) and ABC de la graphologie (1929) thus provided seven categories - Dimension, Form, Pressure, Speed, Direction, Layout and Continuity - comprising 175 signs.

Successors have written about 'Three Dimensions' ("vertical movement, horizontal movement, depth") and added other "dimensions" such as "speed" and "pressure".


What do graphology enthusiasts claim?

A sense of ambitions is provided by a UK practitioner's claims regarding -

  • Recruitment - Graphology is able to reveal strengths and weaknesses that may not show up in the interview. A candidate's capabilities may be masked by interview nerves, while another, who could be less suitable, may interview well.
  • Shortlisting - Graphology can save time, money and effort in this area by seeing that the essential characteristics required for the job are present.
  • Fitting in to the team - If four candidates appear right for the post, the handwriting can reveal the character that will fit in best with the rest of the team.
  • Composing a team - When it is not desirable to recruit
    new people, it may be helpful to reassess existing staff and change their duties so that they can become more efficient and productive. Analysing the writing will highlight strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint the right person
  • Potential - Handwriting analysis will help in determining promotional prospects, thus saving the embarrassment and inevitable problems caused when someone is promoted beyond their capabilities.
  • Motivation - Graphology can be useful in determining an employee's goals, and thus in helping to find the right slot in the organisation for mutual benefit.
  • Stress - Handwriting can help to determine people's stress levels and how they cope with various situations.
  • Monitoring - Changing behaviour patterns and attitudes occur over time. When one sees the same people daily, the differences may not be apparent. Handwriting analysis is particularly useful in monitoring individuals as it can chart progress or decline. It can also track changing habits of a serious nature, eg stemming from alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Problem solving - Graphology can be used when problems occur (communication, ethics, disputes, etc). It also introduces the advantage of impartial intervention. This is helpful when a client has problems and needs an objective discussion without fear of the outcome going around the company grapevine.
  • Retraining - Graphology can be practical when redundancy is inevitable. It can detect new directions in which the employee could channel his energies

A competitor advises that graphology can be used -

to decide which person to use as your accountant, who you should hire as your baby-sitter, who you should go into business with, who you should date, who you should trust, and innumerable other applications.

Andrea McNichol delightfully claims that graphology will allow readers to effectively identify a murderer, a dishonest tradesman, a gay man and a babysitter who might use drugs or to appropriately deny parole to a prison inmate.

One mechanism is the so-called felon's claw, claimed to be exhibited by 80% of convicted criminals and glossed by one enthusiast as being -

associated with bitterness, bad instincts and guilt. The higher the claw, the worse the situation is, and the more conscious the writer is of her guilt and criminality.

Supposedly script from "criminals" lacks "the elasticity found in the writings of non-criminals"! One enthusiast advises that "potential rapists" can be detected by the way they shape the letter g. Alas, graphologists do not seem to have had much success in forecasting the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. You do not have to be a graphological guru to sense that something's awry with Charles Manson's handwriting but what about the folks next door?

Readers of McNichol's book are invited to answer the question -

Can you figure out who the murderer is from these samples? And, by the way, if you can, you might also be able to find out who his next victim is.

The astute murderer may, however, have foiled that prognostication by reading a book or taking a course - often from the very same graphology gurus - that reportedly changes character (or merely disguises undesirable traits) by changing the individual's handwriting. The "x-rays of the mind" can apparently be tweaked with a little graphotherapy.

Western graphologists have resiled from traditional claims that physical ailments (cancer, heart disease, kidney problems and bad breath) can be accurately determined through scrutiny of how people cross the i's, dot the t's and space the letters. Arguably one reason for that reticence is the application of law regarding misleading claims to possess diagnostic expertise.

Graphologist Miriam Wilson wrote in 1986 that

It is ironic that a reliable, accurate method of personnel selection is available to American business, but rarely utilized. ... It is time in America to get graphology out of the carnival atmosphere and into the professional world where it belongs.

Psychologist Barry Beyerstein subsequently commented

Graphology is a pseudoscience that claims to be a quick and easy way of saying how someone's wired, but there's no evidence that this is encoded in handwriting. In these litigious times you can't ask people about their sexual orientation or previous run-ins with the law or their home life or marital status. But graphologists make statements that no legitimate personnel person could make with such a degree of certainty and you can find a lot of gullible people who'll sign on. You'd think hard-nosed businesspeople would be the last to be taken in, but they lap it up.

Contemporary graphologists understandably elide graphology's dark past and are circumspect in referring to founding figures such as Ludwig Klages (1872-1956), the father of German graphology. Klages was a member of the Stefan George kreis and a visceral antisemite, who bizarrely claimed in Handschrift und Charakter: Gemeinverständlicher Abriss der graphologischen Technik (1929) that graphology was effective in detection of 'non-Aryans' - including individuals who had never used a Hebrew script.

     practitioners and consumers

Are there many providers and consumers of graphology services in Australia?

The answer is unclear, given that there is no official registration of graphologists and reports of their activity are usually anecdotal, with individual practitioners tending to exaggerate the size of their customer base.

There is recurrent reference to substantial numbers of businesses in France relying on graphology for personnel selection, for example claims that 90% use such services. The credibility of those claims is uncertain; some observers have estimated that under 30% or 50% of French employers use graphologists and that fewer than 1% of UK employers do so.

In Australia, the UK and US use by business appears to be as part of broader psychometric testing (often as capricious as graphology, despite the aura of scientific rigour and the high fees charged by service providers). Use by individuals appears to centre on what one contact dubs the 'ouija board demographic' - people whose credulity is greater than their grasp of psychology, statistics or physiology.

     graphology and law

How does law respond to use of graphology for recruitment and promotion?

The British Columbia Council of Civil Liberties in its 1988 position paper on The use of graphology as a tool for employee hiring and evaluation commented that

an employee ought not to be expected to give up his or her right to privacy when the test in question really does not provide the relevant information. Nor should a job applicant be tested by means of a procedure that is arbitrary and which does not in fact determine the abilities it claims to determine.

It went on to note that

Graphology has an incredibly low a priori probability for anyone who has the remotest understanding of neurophysiology and physiology. Is it probable (as the graphologists must be maintaining if their theory makes the slightest amount of sense), that traits such as promiscuousness or honesty (already complex dispositions, not simple things located in a few localized neurons in the brain), could have a somatic representation that is channeled into the motor cortex, down the pyramidal tracts, and out the alpha motor neurons to produce a unique writing style unique to all honest or promiscuous people whether they are left- or right-handed, male or female, taught to write by the Maclean's Method in Vancouver in 1928 or the system taught in Topeka, Kansas in 1973 ...?

section marker     studies

As might be inferred from the preceding paragraphs, literature on graphology falls into three classes -

  • rigorous scientific studies (overwhelmingly negative)
  • historical studies (considering the emergence and acceptance of graphology as a cultural artefact analogous to reception of astrology and phrenology)
  • works by true believers (often published by New Age publishers and with a resolute disregard for scientific principles).

Points of entry to the scholarly literature include 'Graphology and the Science of Individual Identity in Modern France' by Roxanne Panchasi in 4(1) Configurations (1996), 1-32, 'Should We Write Off Graphology?' by Russell Driver, Ronald Buckley & Dwight Frink in 4(2) International Journal Of Selection And Assessment (1996) 78-86, 'Inferring personal qualities through handwriting analysis' by Richard Klimoski & Anat Rafaeli in 56(3) Journal of Occupational Psychology (1983) 191-202 and their 'Predicting sales success through handwriting analysis: An evaluation of the effects of training and handwriting sample content' in 68 Journal of Applied Psychology (1983) 212-217, The Write Stuff: Evaluations of Graphology - The Study of Handwriting Analysis (Amherst: Prometheus 1992) edited by Barry & Dale Beyerstein and cogent 'The Legal Implications of Graphology' by Julie Spohn in 75(3) Washington University Law Quarterly (1997) 1307-1334.

Other works include 'Can Graphology Predict Occupational Success? Two Empirical Studies and Some Methodological Ruminations' by Gershon Ben-Shakhar, Maya Bar-Hillel, Yoram Bilu, Edor Ben-Abba & Anat Flug in 71 Journal of Applied Psychology (1986) 645-653, Validation of Graphological Judgments: An Experimental Study (The Hague: Mouton 1973) by Abraham Jansen, 'Illusory Correlations in Graphological Inference' by Roy King & Derek Koehler in 6(4) Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied (2000) 336-348, 'A Review of Scientific Aspects of Graphology: A Handbook' by David Crown in II(1) Journal of Forensic Sciences (1987) 287-288, 'The a priori case against graphology' by Maya Bar-Hillel & Gershon Ben-Shakhar in Scientific Aspects of Graphology (Springfield: Charles C Thomas 1986) edited by Baruch Nevo, 'Stereotypes in the judgement of personality from hand-writing' by Vine in 13(1) British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (1974) 61-64, Patrick Lowe's 2005 dissertation An Examination of Graphological Indicators of Sexual Abuse, 'The graphoanalytic approach to selecting life insurance salesmen' by Stanley Zdep & Herbert Weaver in 51(3) Journal of Applied Psychology (1967) 295-299 and 'A Comparison of the Validity of Handwriting Analysis With That of the Cattell 16PF' by Ian Bushnell in 4(1) International Journal of Selection and Assessment (1996) 12-17.

Among estimates of corporate use of graphology see 'Selection Methods and their usage' by Robertson & Makin in 2(1) Recruitment & Retention (1993) and 2001 'Companiesí Use of Psychometric Testing and the Changing Demand for Skills: A Review of the Literature' (PDF) by Andrew Jenkins.

Primers for fans include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis (New York: Alpha 1999) by Sheila Lowe, The ABC of sex and seduction: What handwriting reveals about sexuality, compatibility and sensuality (London: Aquarian Press 1986) by Jenny Halfon, Handwriting Analysis: A complete self-teaching guide (Woodbury: Llewellyn 1999) by Scott Hollander, Signature for Success: How to Analyze Handwriting and Improve Your Career, Your Relationships and Your Life (Riverside: Andrews McMeel 2003) by Arlyn Imberman & June Rifkin, The Secrets of Your Handwriting (London: Thorsons 1998) by Margaret Gullan-Whur, How to know everything about anyone through handwriting (New York: Sterling 1987) by Anne Conway, The hidden language of your handwriting: the remarkable new science of graphonomy and what it reveals about personality, health and emotions (London: Souvenir Press 1980) by James Greene & David Lewis, What your handwriting reveals (London: Sphere 1980) by Albert Hughes, Lovestrokes: handwriting analysis for love, sex & compatibility (New York: Harper 1987) by Hariette Surovell, Handwriting Analysis and the Employee Selection Process (New York: Quorum 1990) by Kathryn Sackheim and Handwriting Analysis: Putting It to Work for You (Chicago: Contemporary Books 1991) by Andrea McNichol.

One corrective is 'Handwriting analysis and personality assessment: The creative use of analogy, symbolism, and metaphor' by Peter Greasley in 5(1) European Psychologist (2000) 44-51.

Legal perspectives include 'Distinction Between Graphology And Questioned Document Examination' by Baxter in 6 Medicine, Science And the Law (1966) 75-86, 'Handwriting Identification and Graphology' by Jan Beck in 9 Journal Of Forensic Sciences (1964) 477-484 and 'Behavior Factors In Handwriting Identification' by Michal Naftali in 56 Journal Of Criminal Law, Criminology And Police Science (1965) 528-39.



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