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Graphology is the analysis of the physical characteristics and patterns of handwriting with attempt to identify the writer, indicate the psychological state at the time of writing, or evaluate personality characteristics. No scientific evidence exists to support graphology, and it is generally considered a pseudoscience or scientifically questionably practice. However, it remains in widespread use in France and has historically been considered legitimate for use in some court cases. The term is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to forensic document examination, due to the fact that aspects of the latter dealing with the examination of handwritten documents are occasionally referred to as graphanalysis.
Schlicht, an academic historian, states that while graphology failed to become a scientific discipline, many experts in experimental psychology and psychiatry participated in the endeavour to study graphology within a broader, more recognized science of expression, and that "to qualify something as pseudoscience can thus easily result in an unsystematic examination of a historical constellation of knowledge production." Graphology has been controversial for more than a century. Although supporters point to the anecdotal evidence of positive testimonials as a reason to use it for personality evaluation, empirical studies fail to show the validity claimed by its supporters. It has also been rated by mental health professionals as one of the top five most discredited psychological tests.
Jean-Charles Gille-Maisani stated in 1991 that Juan Huarte de San Juan's 1575 Examen de ingenios para las ciencias was the first book on handwriting analysis. In American graphology, Camillo Baldi's Trattato come da una lettera missiva si conoscano la natura e qualita dello scrittore from 1622 is considered to be the first book.
Around 1830 Jean-Hippolyte Michon became interested in handwriting analysis. He published his findings shortly after founding Société Graphologique in 1871. The most prominent of his disciples was Jules Crépieux-Jamin who rapidly published a series of books that were soon published in other languages. Starting from Michon's integrative approach, Crépieux-Jamin founded a holistic approach to graphology.
Alfred Binet was convinced to conduct research into graphology from 1893 to 1907. He called it "the science of the future" despite rejection of his results by graphologists.
After World War I, interest in graphology continued to spread in Europe as well as the United States. In Germany during the 1920s, Ludwig Klages founded and published his finding in Zeitschrift für Menschenkunde (Journal for the Study of Mankind). His major contribution to the field can be found in Handschrift und Charakter.
Thea Stein Lewinson and J. Zubin modified Klage's ideas, based upon their experience working for the U.S. government, publishing their method in 1942.
In 1929 Milton Bunker founded The American Grapho Analysis Society teaching graphoanalysis. This organization and its system split the American graphology world in two. Students had to choose between graphoanalysis or holistic graphology. While hard data is lacking, anecdotal evidence indicates that 10% of the members of International Graphoanalysis Society (IGAS) were expelled between 1970 and 1980.
Regarding a proposed correlation between gender and handwriting style, a paper published by James Hartley in 1989 concluded that there was some evidence in support of this hypothesis.
Although graphology had some support in the scientific community before the mid-twentieth century, more recent research rejects the validity of graphology as a tool to assess personality and job performance. Today it is considered to be a pseudoscience. Many studies have been conducted to assess its effectiveness to predict personality and job performance. Recent studies testing the validity of using handwriting for predicting personality traits and job performance have been consistently negative.
In a 1987 study, graphologists were unable to predict scores on the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire using writing samples from the same people. In a 1988 study, graphologists were unable to predict scores on the Myers-Briggs test using writing samples from the same people. A 1982 meta-analysis drawn from over 200 studies concludes that graphologists were generally unable to predict any kind of personality trait on any personality test.
Measures of job performance appear similarly unrelated to the handwriting metrics of graphologists. Professional graphologists using handwriting analysis were just as ineffective as lay people at predicting performance in a 1989 study. A broad literature screen done by King and Koehler confirmed dozens of studies showing the geometric aspects of graphology (slant, slope, etc.) are essentially worthless predictors of job performance.
Rowan Bayne, a British psychologist who has written several studies on graphology, summarized his view of the appeal of graphology: "[i]t's very seductive because at a very crude level someone who is neat and well behaved tends to have neat handwriting", adding that the practice is "useless... absolutely hopeless". The British Psychological Society ranks graphology alongside astrology, giving them both "zero validity".
In his book The Write Stuff, Barry Beyerstein summarized the work of Geoffrey Dean, who performed probably the most extensive literature survey of graphology ever done. Dean did a meta-analysis on some 200 studies:
Dean showed that graphologists have failed unequivocally to demonstrate the validity or reliability of their art for predicting work performance, aptitudes, or personality. Graphology thus fails according to the standards a genuine psychological test must pass before it can ethically be released for use on an unsuspecting public.
Dean found that no particular school of graphology fared better than any other... In fact, no graphologist of any stripe was able to show reliably better performance than untrained amateurs making guesses from the same materials. In the vast majority of studies, neither group exceeded chance expectancy.
Other divining techniques like iridology, phrenology, palmistry, and astrology also have differing schools of thought, require years of training, offer expensive certifications, and fail just as soundly when put to a scientific controlled test. Handwriting analysis does have its plausible-sounding separation from those other techniques though, and that's the whole "handwriting is brainwriting" idea — traits from the brain will be manifested in the way that it controls the muscles of the hand. Unfortunately, this is just as unscientific as the others. No amount of sciencey sounding language can make up for a technique failing when put to a scientifically controlled test.
Additional specific objections
- The Barnum effect (the tendency to interpret vague statements as specifically meaningful) and the Dr. Fox effect (the tendency for supposed experts to be validated based on likeability rather than actual skill) make it difficult to validate methods of personality testing. These phenomena describe the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. See, for example, Tallent (1958). Non-individualized graphological reports give credence to this criticism.
- Effect Size: Dean's (1992) primary argument against the use of graphology is that the effect size is too small. Regardless of the validity of handwriting analysis, the research results imply that it is not applicable for any specific individual, but may be applicable to a group.
- Vagueness: Some important principles of graphology are vague enough to allow significant room for a graphologist to skew interpretations to suit a subject or preconceived conclusion. For example, one of the main concepts in the theory of Ludwig Klages is form-niveau (or form-level): the overall level of originality, beauty, harmony, style, etc. of a person's handwriting—a quality that, according to Klages, can be perceived but not measured. According to this theory, the same sign has a positive or negative meaning depending on the subject's overall character and personality as revealed by the form-niveau. In practice, this can lead the graphologist to interpret signs positively or negatively depending on whether the subject has high or low social status.
Systems of handwriting analysis
Each approach to handwriting analysis has spawned several systems.
Integrative graphology focuses on strokes and their relation to personality. Graphoanalysis was the most influential system in the United States, between 1929 and 2000. The Sistema de Xandró is another method of integrative graphology. Holistic graphology is based on form, movement, and use of space. The psychogram is another method which uses specific diagrams to analyze handwriting. The Personal Worth Chart is one such method developed by the Handwriting Consultants of San Diego during the early 1980s. The psychograph is an additional psychogram method. was developed by Leslie King during the 1970s. The Wittlich Character Diagram, and the Muller-Enskat Protokol are other psychogram methods.
Four academic institutions offer an accredited degree in handwriting analysis:
- The University of Urbino, Italy: MA (Graphology)
- Instituto Superior Emerson, Buenos Aires, Argentina: BA (Graphology)
- Centro de Estudios Superiores (CES), Buenos Aires, Argentina: BA (Graphology)
- Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain: MA (Graphology)
The majority of material in the field is oriented toward the Latin writing system. Courses offered in the subject reflect that bias.
Every system of handwriting analysis has its own vocabulary. Even though two or more systems may share the same words, the meanings of those words may be different. The technical meaning of a word used by a handwriting analyst, and the common meaning is not congruent. Resentment, for example, in common usage, means annoyance. In Graphoanalysis, the term indicates a fear of imposition.
A report by the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information says that handwriting analysis without informed consent is a privacy violation.
In the United States
Sex and handwriting
A 1991 review of the then-current literature concluded that respondents were able to predict the gender of handwriting between 57 and 78% of the time. However, most of these samples, as well as subsequent studies, are based on small sample sizes that are collected nonrandomly. A much larger and more recent survey of over 3,000 participants only found a classification accuracy of 54%. As statistical discrimination below .7 is generally considered unacceptable, this indicates that most results are rather inaccurate, and that variation in results observed are likely due to sampling technique and bias.
The reason for this bias varies; while it has been speculated as being contributed to by biology due to fine motor skills, however this explanation is flawed due to a lack of direct evidence, a lack of large differences in motor skills by gender, and any differences remaining being nonuniform and explainable by culture. Instead, explanations rooted in culture and gender bias may better explain the data.
A 2001 advisory opinion letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission responded to a question regarding "whether it is legal to use an analysis of an applicant's handwriting as an employment screening tool. You also ask whether it is legal to ask the applicant's age and use of medications to allow for variants in his/her handwriting." The letter advised that in this circumstance, it was illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to ask a job applicant whether he or she is taking any medications, and also advised that asking an applicant for his or her age "allegedly to allow for variants in analyzing his/her handwriting" was not a per se violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), but could be significant evidence of age discrimination. The letter also said that there was no judicial guidance on "whether a policy of excluding applicants based upon their handwriting has an adverse impact on a protected group" under the ADA, ADEA, or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A company takes a writing sample provided by an applicant, and proceeds to do a personality profile, matching the congruency of the applicant with the ideal psychological profile of employees in the position. Applicant can also malpractice in this system; they may ask someone to write on their behalf.
A graphological report is meant to be used in conjunction with other tools, such as comprehensive background checks, practical demonstration or record of work skills. Graphology supporters state that it can complement but not replace traditional hiring tools.
Research in employment suitability has ranged from complete failure; to guarded success. The most substantial reason for not using handwriting analysis in the employment process is the absence of evidence of a direct link between handwriting analysis and various measures of job performance.
Graphology has been used clinically by European counselors and psychotherapists. When it is used, it is generally used alongside other projective personality assessment tools, and not in isolation. It is often used within individual psychotherapy, marital counseling, or vocational counseling.
In its simplest form only sexual expression and sexual response are examined. At its most complex, every aspect of an individual is examined for how it affects the other individual(s) within the relationship. The theory is that after knowing and understanding how each individual in the relationship differs from every other individual in the relationship, the resulting marriage will be more enduring. With a comparative analysis receiving and non-receiving parts responses are measured.
Medical graphology is probably the most controversial branch of handwriting analysis. Strictly speaking, such research is not graphology as described throughout this article but an examination of factors pertaining to motor control. Research studies have been conducted in which a detailed examination of handwriting factors, particularly timing, fluidity, pressure, and consistency of size, form, speed, and pressure are considered in the process of evaluating patients and their response to pharmacological therapeutic agents. The study of these phenomena is a by-product of researchers investigating motor control processes and the interaction of nervous, anatomical, and biomechanical systems of the body.
The Vanguard Code of Ethical Practice, amongst others, prohibits medical diagnosis by those not licensed to do diagnosis in the state in which they practice.
This is the pseudoscience of changing a person's handwriting with the goal of changing features of his or her personality, or "handwriting analysis in reverse." It originated in France during the 1930s, spreading to the United States in the late 1950s. The purported therapy consists of a series of exercises which are similar to those taught in basic calligraphy courses, sometimes in conjunction with music or positive self-talk.
- Saman Aslam
- Camillo Baldi
- Ludwig Klages
- Max Pulver
- Robert Saudek
- Rafael Schermann
- Léopold Szondi
- Sheila Lowe
- Asemic writing
- Questioned document examination
- List of topics characterized as pseudoscience
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