A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All

graphology (graphoanalysis)

Graphology (graphoanalysis) is the study of handwriting, especially when employed as a means of analyzing character and personality traits. Real handwriting experts are known as forensic document examiners, not as graphologists. Forensic (or questioned) document examiners consider loops, dotted "i's" and crossed "t's," letter spacing, slants, heights, ending strokes,  etc. They examine handwriting to detect authenticity or forgery.

Graphologists, or graphoanalyists, examine loops, dotted "i's" and crossed "t's," letter spacing, slants, heights, ending strokes, upslant pressure, downslant pressure, etc., but they believe that such handwriting minutiae are physical manifestations of  unconscious mental functions. Graphologists believe such details can reveal as much about a person as astrology , palm readingpsychometry, rumpology, or the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. However, there is no evidence that the unconscious mind is a reservoir of truth about a person, much less that graphology provides a gateway to that reservoir.

Graphology is claimed to be useful for everything from understanding health issues, morality and past experiences to hidden talents and mental problems.* However, "in properly controlled, blind studies, where the handwriting samples contain no content that could provide non-graphological information upon which to base a prediction (e.g., a piece copied from a magazine), graphologists do no better than chance at predicting... personality traits...." ["The Use of Graphology as a Tool for Employee Hiring and Evaluation," from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association] And even non-experts are able to correctly identify the gender of a writer about 70% of the time (Furnham, 204).

There are a variety of techniques used by graphologists.* Even so, the techniques of these "experts" seem to be reducible to impressions from such things as the pressure exerted on the page, spacing of words and letters, crossed t's, dotted i's, size, slant, speed and consistency of writing. Though graphologists deny it, the content of the writing is one of the more important factors in graphological character assessment. The content of a message, of course, is independent of the handwriting and should be irrelevant to the assessment.

Barry Beyerstein (1996) considers many of the notions of graphologists to be little more than sympathetic magic, e.g., the notion that leaving wide spaces between letters indicates a proneness to isolation and loneliness because the wide spaces indicate someone who does not mix easily and is uncomfortable with closeness. One graphologist claims that a person betrays his sadistic nature if he crosses his t's with lines that look like whips.

Since there is no useful theory as to how graphology might work, it is not surprising that there is no empirical evidence that any graphological characteristics significantly correlate with any interesting personality trait. (Though see reader comments from Brian Hales for a discussion of engineering quirks in handwriting.)

Adrian Furnham writes:

Readers familiar with the techniques of cold reading will be able to understand why graphology appears to work and why so many (otherwise intelligent) people believe in it. [p. 204]

Add to cold reading, the Barnum effect, confirmation bias, communal reinforcement, the Forer effect, and subjective validation and you have a fairly complete explanation for graphology's popularity.

Graphology is another pipe dream of those who want a quick and dirty decision making process to tell them who to marry, who did the crime, who they should hire, what career they should seek, where the good hunting is, where the water, oil, or buried treasure is, etc. Graphology is another in a long list of quack substitutes for hard work. It is appealing to those who are impatient with such troublesome matters as research, evidence analysis, reasoning, logic, and hypothesis testing. If you want results and you want them now and you want them stated in strong, certain terms, graphology is for you. If, however, you can live with reasonable probabilities and uncertainty, you might try another method to pick a spouse or hire an employee.

If on the other hand, you don't mind discriminating against people on the basis of pseudoscientific non-sense, then at least have the consistency to use a Ouija board to help you pick the right graphologist.

See also crystal power, palmistry, polygraph and Rorschach test, "How FBI profilers resemble graphologists".


reader comments

further reading

books and articles

Basil, Robert. "Graphology and Personality: `Let the Buyer Beware'," in The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal, ed. Kendrick Frazier (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), pp. 206-208.

Beyerstein, Barry. "Graphology," in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996), pp. 309-324.

Beyerstein, Barry and Dayle F. Beyerstein, editors, The Write Stuff - Evaluations of Graphology, the Study of Handwriting Analysis (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991).

Furnham, Adrian. "Write and Wrong: The Validity of Graphological Analysis," in The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal,ed. Kendrick Frazier (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), pp. 200-205.

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), ch. 24.

websites

Graphology from the Encyclopedia of the Paranormal by Barry Beyerstein

Ask the Scientists - Barry Beyerstein on the abuse of graphology

Mass Media Funk - Barry Beyerstein and Alan Alda on graphology

Mass Media Bunk - graphology

Mass Media Bunk - more graphology

Graphological Gender Testing A humorous application of this "science".

The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners

"The Use of Graphology as a Tool for Employee Hiring and Evaluation," from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

Last updated

12-Sep-2014
© Copyright 1994-2014 Robert T. Carroll * This page was designed by Cristian Popa.