Graphology: Guide to interpreting our handwriting
Do you remember how when you were beginning to learn how to write that the teacher used stencils and other materials to help you trace letters? Do you realize how everyone used the same stencils and yet everyone’s handwriting is incredibly different? That difference in handwriting has to do with their difference in personality. People use graphology to study these differences. So, what is graphology? How does it play in society? How is it applied? How much does a graphologist make? How do psychology and graphology play in together? How does one’s brain affect their graphology? What are some famous criminal cases that were solved using graphology? What are some tips to improve your graphology?
What is graphology?
Graphology is the analysis and examination of the characteristics about handwriting that make it unique to the writer. It’s just the fancy way of saying “handwriting analysis”. It’s considered to be a pseudoscience which means that it’s considered both scientific and factual, although it does not comply with the scientific method. Criminally, graphology is used to indicate the psychological state at the time the person wrote. It can also be used to evaluate personality characteristics. The work “graphology” comes from the Greek “graph” which means “writing” and the English “-logy” (originally the French “-logie”) which means “the study of”.
Did you know that the letter “e” can show how much you listen? What about that oval letters, such as “a” and “o” can show how you communicate?
Society and graphology
Graphology is used throughout society daily whether we know it or not. Some businesses rely on psychologists (specifically industrial psychologists or organizational psychologists) to help improve their overall organizational structure as well as make decisions in regards to the business’s personnel. Psychologists who have a background in graphology and organizational psychology can actually use the handwriting analysis from graphology to help the organization make important decisions about their workers.
Graphologists, the people who analyze handwriting, are able to say “this person isn’t mentally stable because their handwriting traits aren’t consistent”. How can they do this accurately? Well, these traits are validated through empirical studies. Graphologists take hundreds upon hundreds of handwriting samples from people with a specific characteristic (for example, depression). If a significant number of those people also show certain tendencies (for example, writing on a decline) in their handwriting, the connection is made that people who write on a decline probably suffer from depression.
Applications for graphology
Graphology is applied in many ways. First, graphology can be used for marital compatibility. Due to the fact that graphology is used for personality assessments, it’s used to look at the different personality aspects an individual has to see how it affects the other individuals) in the relationship. It’s done with the idea that knowing and understanding how each person in the relationship is different from the other(s), the marriage/relationship will endure more.
Second, it’s applied in employment profiling. This means that the company takes a writing sample that is provided by an applicant and tries to do a personality profile. This personality profile finds the compatibility and congruency of the applicant with the ideal psychological profile of the employee in the position they are applying for. A list of characteristics evaluated can be found here. This personality profile is then piled into a graphological report that is used, in addition to using other tools, as a comprehensive background check and a general demonstration of work skills. Those who are in favor of graphology believe that employment profiling can be used in conjunction with, but not replace traditional hiring tools. Some studies have found this use of graphology to be a complete success while others have found it to be a complete failure. It’s been criticized on both legal grounds and ethical grounds in the U.S.
Third, graphology can be used for a medical diagnosis. However, medical graphology is actually the most controversial and disputed branch of handwriting analysis. It has less to do with handwriting itself and more to do with the examination of factors that relate to our motor control. It’s actually just the by-product of researchers investigating motor control in the brain, its processes, and the interaction of anatomical, biomechanical, and nervous systems within the body. Studies have been conducted that take a detailed look at the different handwriting factors which as pressure, timing, and fluidity as well as looking at the consistency of speed, size, form, and pressure. Those aspects of handwriting are considered to be the evaluation standards for evaluating patients as well as looking at their response to pharmacological therapeutic agents.
Fourth, graphology can be used in psychological analysis and has been used clinically in Europe by psychotherapists and counselors. When it’s used with psychological analysis, it’s used alongside other personality assessment tools, not just by itself. Often, it’s also used alongside marital counseling, psychotherapy, and/or vocational counseling.
Last but not least, graphology also can be used in graphotherapy. Graphotherapy is handwriting analysis reversed. Essentially, it’s the pseudoscience of changing a person’s handwriting with the goal of changing their personality. It started in France in the 1930s and made its way to the U.S. in the late 1950s. This therapy is made up of a few exercises that are similar to those that are taught in basic calligraphy (handwriting) courses. Sometimes graphotherapy is paired with positive self-talk or music.
How much does a graphologist make?
A graphologist salary depends on what field they are working in: organizational psychology or forensics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an organizational psychologist (a psychologist with a background in organization and graphology), made an average of $114,040 in 2010. The lowest earners made $67,370 while the highest earning organizational psychologists made $138,420 annually. A regular psychologist made an average of $86,510 in 2010. The lowest earning was $64,710 and the highest earning was $106,090. A forensic graphologist, also known as a forensic science technician, in 2010 made an average salary of $55,040 a year. The highest paid technicians made over $82,990 annually.
Graphology and Psychology
Whether you believe it or not, graphology and psychology are rather tied together. Handwriting analysis is one of a handful of personality assessment tools. Roughly 60 years ago, the U.S. was introduced to the offshoot of graphology known as graph analysis. Graphoanalysis (not to be confused with graph analysis which is the forensic graphology) is the theory and study that psychological and physical diagnoses can be made based on an examination of one’s letter shapes. However, a few years later the theory was discredited as both a psychological and physiological diagnostic tool. That said, it’s still used today in some cases. One example of graphoanalysis was when a graphoanalyst was able to diagnose a woman with heart problems because they noticed that she had a glitch in the upstroke of her letter “H”. The graphologist was under the belief that the women, subconsciously, had anxiety from the letter H and that this anxiety was produced physically when she wrote the letter “H”. That tremor on the “H” later lead them to see that the woman had a heart condition. Might sound kind of ludacris, right?
Graphology was developed alongside psychiatry in Europe. In the United States, it was developed alongside popular psychology. Famous names such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung among others studied graphology and believed in its value. However, they didn’t pay as much attention to individual letters as they did to the whole of the person’s handwriting. For example, they gave special attention to how jagged or fluid the lines were, where the writing was on the page, and how legible the handwriting was. These men came to the conclusion that handwriting is a window to both the subconscious and conscious mind. It’s like an electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) for the brain because it shows us our constantly evolving mental and physical states. An electrocardiogram is a visual recording of cardiac function. Handwriting is the equivalent of an EKG for the brain because it’s initiated by electrical impulses, through the central neural system, through the arm and then the hand, and onto the paper. Handwriting and ECGs are bioelectric impulses.
A handwriting analysis can tell how someone’s psychological state is, their level of honesty, physical activity level, characteristics as a leader/follower, their frequency of drug use, emotional stability, assertiveness, and what their overall personality is simply by looking at their handwriting strokes. Imagine a piece of paper with some handwriting on it. The strokes of each letter veer in all directions and the letters don’t seem consistent (one “a” doesn’t look like the next “a” which is different from the following “a”, etc.). This type of writing shows that the writer’s mind is going a hundred different directions all at once. If you look up the letters written by different serial killers, such as Charles Manson, you’ll see that their handwriting likely resembles the image you just imagined in your head of the slanted, crazy handwriting.
Both mentally healthy right-handed and left-handed writers follow a similar writing pattern: letters slightly slanted to the right, style is consistent, and it takes up a good amount of the page. If the writing strays from these characteristics, graphologists (and organizational psychologists) see that deviation as a sign of something to take a look at. However, a deviation from those general characteristics isn’t bad- someone whose writing slants to the left rather than the right isn’t a serial killer, but it does give the graphologist a hint at who they are as a person. For example, that slant to the left means that the person writing is holding back their true emotions and that their emotions are being repressed in a significant way.
If the slant is to the right, but it’s extremely slanted, the person writing is probably getting carried away with their feelings (take a look at the original works of famous poets and see how slanted to the right their writing is!). If the slant goes from left to right without consistency, it indicates that the person writing has an unstable mind, they’re going through significant stress or their untruthful. Writing on a decline shows some sort of depression. Any level or inclined writing indicates a happy or content writer. However, any excessive or exaggerated decline or incline can show negative personality traits or negative psychological issues.
Taking a look at Jackie Kennedy, think about how after her husband’s death, she was viewed by the public as unemotional. If you take a look at her handwriting after his death, you’ll see that her handwriting is slanted slightly leftward meaning she’s withdrawn and holding back her emotions.
Signatures can say a lot about a person’s mental state, too. Take a look, Richard Nixon. His signature actually deteriorated throughout his career. If you look at a picture of his signature when he resigned as president in 1974, his signature is nothing more than a line with an “X” through it. Signatures represent one’s self-image- meaning they relet how you see yourself publicly, not in reality. Writing sentences, paragraphs, and emails, you’re showing your feelings and ideas. Writing a signature, though, you’re showing something different- your name, your public identity.
How does the brain affect one’s graphology?
The brain doesn’t just affect one’s handwriting, but the brain actually is one’s handwriting. The way in which we write reflects directly what’s going on inside of our heads more than our simple hand coordination. There are studies that have shown people who were paralyzed and unable to physically write being able to recreate their handwriting using a device that allows them to write using their mouths. Beyond the fact that it’s a cool device in and of itself, it’s even cooler that these people were not only able to write, but they wrote with the same lettering style with the device as they did with their hands before they became paralyzed. This shows that handwriting comes from the brain, not from physical movements. When we learn how to write, our handwriting starts out with a chain of isolated motor movements that are better with practice and memorization. After a while, we no longer need help to write because our motor memory impulse remembers what is necessary to do for each stroke we make on the page. However, our handwriting cerebral organization changes by becoming more ingrained in our brain which means it requires less energy to do (the more we write, the easier it is). This is because our dynamic and multilayered kinesthetic memory knows better and better how to picture how the letters are formed, how the writing should look, and how it feels to move the writing utensil across the page.
Our handwriting has also been proven to be able to tell our intelligence. Comparing two people’s handwriting: Person A has letters that grow bigger while they write. Person B has letters that grow smaller. Who is more intelligent? Person B. Why? Because the tendency that person B has of writing smaller and smaller actually comes from the fact that person B is becoming more concentrated while they write which is a sign of intelligence.
Famous examples of graphology
Graphology and Graph analysis are often confused. Graph analysis is often used to refer to the practice of dealing with the examination of handwritten documents that deal with forensic document examination. Some of the world’s most famous cases of forensic document examination include:
- The BTK Killer. Dennis Rader scared and victimized the Wichita Kansas area from 1974 until 1991. He would bind, torture, and kill (thus, “BTK”) and had 10 victims tied to his name when he was arrested in 2005 due to a forensic handwriting analysis of the letters that he sent taunting the police to find him and get media attention.
- Robert Durst was suspected of killing Susan Berman since 2000. However, there was no physical real evidence that tied him to the case. Berman was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. Durst and Berman had a long history of letter writing (they weren’t very friendly, though). Among the evidence that helped convict Durst is a handwritten note he sent to Berman in 1999. The handwriting from an anonymous letter sent to the Beverly Hills police when Berman was killed matched the handwriting in this letter- both letters used capital letters and wrote in complete block lettering. Furthermore, both letters had the same misspelling of Beverly Hills as “Beverley Hills”.
Tips to improve graphology
In order to improve your graphology, take a piece of paper that has a dotted line in the middle of two thicker lines (like the one you probably used when you were learning how to first write). However, regular lined paper works, as well. After you have the paper, try these exercises.
- For relaxation and calmness try the Waves Exercise. This exercise consists of drawing “waves” for about half a page, one line right after the other. The top of the wave goes to the bottom of the line and vice versa. The biggest thing to pay attention to is keeping the line even.
- For more relaxation and calmness, as well as a good night’s sleep, try the Skipping Rock Exercise. It looks kind of like drawing continuous arches. Try this for about half a page, but make sure to keep the lines thoroughly even.
- To increase attention to details, try the Castle Top Exercise, also known as the Witch Hat Exercise. Draw a continuum of triangles with a small line between each triangle at the bottom.
- For concentration, try the Top Hat Exercise which consists of drawing “top hats” that look like squares essentially, for half a page. Keep each line even.
- For better (writing) stamina, try the Heartbeat Exercise. It’s called the heartbeat exercise because the lines look like the heart monitor (in the hospital) that measure the patient’s heart rates… going up and down at a steep slant. ½ a page daily for 30 days will actually improve your handwriting stamina.
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Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.