Handwriting Analysis: An Assessment
There is widespread belief that a person’s handwriting reveals much about their personalities. But do big loops and “Ts” crossed above the ascender really say much about who we are?
History of Graphology
The venerable Confucius is supposed to have said “Beware of a man whose writing sways like a reed in the wind.” That was 2,500 years ago, give or take. But, it’s not entirely clear what the great builder of lofty thoughts meant by that.
Camillo Baldi was an Italian philosopher who taught at the University of Bologna. In 1622, he wrote an essay that touches, in part, on graphology, a discipline that is still taught at the University of Bologna.
Professore Baldi informs us that “… if the writing is both fast, even, and well-formed, and appears to have been written with pleasure, it has probably been written by a man who knows nothing and is worthless, because you rarely find intelligent and prudent men who write neatly ... these writers are also often cold, avaricious, foolish, intemperate, and indiscreet.”
Graphology soon escaped from the confines of academia. The first work in English on the subject was published by Rosa Baughan in 1877, under the title Character Indicated by Handwriting.
In 1895, child psychologist Wilhelm Preyer developed the proposition that writing comes from the brain, not the hand. So, handwriting should more properly be called brainwriting, he said, and would therefore be greatly influenced by character.
During the 20th century and into this one, thousands of people have hung out their shingles and claimed expertise in character analysis through an examination of handwriting.
The Encyclopedia Britannica writes that “Graphologists note such elements as the size of individual letters and the degree and regularity of slanting, ornamentation, angularity, and curvature.”
Thousands of businesses turn to graphologists to give them insight into job applicants. Some claim to analyse several hundred features of handwriting to develop a personality profile.
So, let’s turn to graphologist Kathi McKnight to see how it’s done. She says “Just from analyzing your handwriting, experts can find over 5,000 personality traits” (Business Insider, January 2015). A random selection of Ms. McKnight's work gives us these insights:
- If your writing leans to the right you are “Heart-centred, friendly, sentimental, and impulsive;”
- If it leans to the left “You prefer to work with things over people. You are introspective and reserved;”
- If your letters are connected “you are logical, methodical, and make decisions carefully;” and,
- If you have a long, loopy “y” “you love to travel.”
Supporters and Detractors
Graphologists passionately defend their discipline as science-based.
The British Institute of Graphologists says that “Your handwriting contains the story of yourself, and graphologists are those who can read this story, and interpret it for you. Graphology is the analysis of the brain’s subconscious expression through the medium of handwriting.”
The Handwriting Research Corporation says it provides “corporations, individuals, and the media worldwide with psychological profiles produced entirely from handwriting samples.” It makes the claim that “A study by the American Psychological Association’s annual convention revealed that graphology - conducted with the aid of computer technology - can be a reliable tool for determining traits such as honesty, emotional stability, substance abuse risk, and judgment.” But, it proves impossible to find that citation.
However, that same American Psychological Association carries a paper on its website whose abstract reads: “When the authors take a closer look at the academic literature, they note that there is no discussion of the actual rules by which graphologists make their assessments of personality from handwriting samples. Examination of these rules reveals a practice founded upon analogy, symbolism, and metaphor in the absence of empirical studies that have established the associations between particular features of handwriting and personality traits proposed by graphologists.”
The British Psychological Society is blunter. It says “… the evidence about the effectiveness of handwriting analysis is not very plentiful,” and adds that, like astrology, is has “zero validity.”
A New Tack
The decline of handwriting skills in the Western world presents a challenge to people who sell their expertise as graphologists. But, not to worry, here comes psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman to the rescue. In his book The Psychology of Fonts, he says a lot can be learned about a person’s personality from their choice of fonts. The Globe and Mail interviewed the doctor and discovered that “big round Os and tails” – Georgia or Shelley for example - are signs of friendliness and extroversion. Courier-style fonts are favoured by people who are “cheapskates.” Sans serif fonts such as Verdana and Arial “convey little emotion, and are a good choice for those who wish to blend in and give away as little of themselves as possible.”
At the 2005 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland a page of notes and doodles was found on the desk of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. The media jumped on the paper and started trotting the handwriting samples around graphologists and psychologists. The experts gave their opinions that the author of the notes was “struggling to concentrate,” “not a natural leader” and “an aggressive, unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure.” Then came the reveal. The scribblings had actually been done by Microsoft chief honcho Bill Gates. Oops.
The English painter Thomas Gainsborough is said to have kept an example of the subject’s handwriting while painting a portrait.
The membership records of groups representing handwriting analysts indicate there are more than 20,000 graphologists in the United States.
- “The History of Graphology.” The British Institute of Graphologists, undated.
- “Facts and History of Graphology.” Handwriting Research Corporation, undated.
- “Handwriting Analysis and Personality Assessment: The Creative Use of Analogy, Symbolism, and Metaphor.” Peter Greasley, American Psychological Association, 2000.
- “The Validity of Graphology in Personnel Assessment.” British Psychological Society,
- “Graphology.” Encyclopedia Britannica, undated.
- “Writing Wrongs.” Raj Persaud, The Guardian, February 10, 2005.
- “Blair Blames Gates for ‘Day-Dreamer’ Doodle.” Andrew Sparrow, The Telegraph, January 31, 2005.
- “The Secret Language of Fonts.” Jack Kapica, Globe and Mail, April 11, 2018.
© 2018 Rupert Taylor