Can handwriting analysis be used to determine type?

Short answer: No.

Just like face reading and stock characters, the notion that handwriting analysis can be linked to type is spreading like wildfire in type training organizations and on the internet. In this post we will explain why we think graphology is completely lacking in validity and why it should not be used in connection with Jungian typology.

We’ll give our answer in two parts: (1) through scientific studies (2) through an anecdote.

(1) Scientific Studies

Like face reading, graphology is one of those seductive ideas that – if they worked – would provide a sure-fire guarantee of always being right when typing people. As a poster on our blog recently said of such things: “That would be a cool superpower to have, right?” It sure would, if it worked. But it doesn’t. Handwriting analysis has repeatedly failed to show any kind of systematic validity. Studies have been done where handwriting experts were given writing samples and asked to predict the subject’s MBTI type scores, with absolutely no validity. Likewise, an aggregate analysis of over 200 handwriting studies also concluded that handwriting analysis was unable to predict any of the subject’s personality traits.

graph

Caption made by OPP. See references at the bottom of this post.

“So what?” you may say. “Jungian typology isn’t scientific either.” But there is a crucial difference there: Jungian typology and instruments like the MBTI are semi-scientific. They are not exactly situated within the realm of science, but when test scores are utilized for scientific studies they are always found to have some validity to them. For example, in the Robertson & Smith study referenced below, personality tests such as the MBTI were found to have a 0.40 validity, whereas handwriting analysis yielded a mere 0.02, which is pretty much the same as no validity (astrology typically carries a 0.01 validity in studies like these). And no serious scientific test has ever found that MBTI scores have no validity.

In the case of tests like the MBTI, then, the validity is of an entirely different magnitude. There is a huge difference between something that is in the mid-high tier of predictor instruments (0.40) and something that is essentially random (0.02).

Finally, it must be said that there are a select few studies, most of them pretty old, that have found that there is some validity to handwriting analysis. But when viewed against the backdrop of the field as a whole it will be seen that these studies are insignificant to the overall picture. For example, in the Kahneman et. al. study that is referenced below, more than 200 studies were analyzed in aggregate and it was found that there is no validity to the practice of handwriting analysis overall.

 (2) An Anecdote

Ok, but enough with the science class, right? Let’s get an example of how handwriting analysis works in practice. In his book, 59 Seconds – Think a Little, Change a Lot, psychologist Richard Wiseman served up the following anecdote to illustrate the futility of graphology:

In 2005 world leaders gathered at a major economic forum in Switzerland to discuss some of the biggest problems facing Planet Earth. From poverty to privatization, and capitalism to climate change, nothing escaped their eagle eyes and influential minds. Despite the enormity of the issues, however, much of the media coverage of the event focused on a single sheet of paper that had been carelessly left by one of the attendees at a press conference.

The newspapers had managed to get hold of a page of scribbled notes and doodles apparently made by Tony Blair during the event. They asked various graphologists to make a psychological assessment of the British prime minister on the basis of his handwriting and drawings. The graphologists quickly rose to the challenge, noting how, for example, his disconnected letters, right-sloping writing, and strange way of writing d showed the “Blair flair at work” and revealed that he was struggling to keep control of a confusing world, was a day-dreamer hoping for the best, was unable to complete tasks, and possessed an unconscious death wish toward his political career.

At the time, Blair was trying to deal with various political problems and scandals, including a forthcoming election with the smallest of majorities, and so the observations seemed to present an accurate insight into his personality. However, a few days later things did not look so rosy: Downing Street pointed out that the page did not belong to Blair but had instead been produced by fellow attendee Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s most successful businessmen.

[…]

When it comes to obtaining a graphology-based insight into the personality of others, the writing is on the wall. The Blair-Gates slipup does not represent a momentary slip of the pen but is symbolic of the findings of scientific studies that have investigated graphology. Contrary to the claims made by proponents, research suggests that graphology does not provide an amazingly accurate and reliable insight into personality and should not be seen as a useful way to predict employee performance.

All in all, then, despite what many in the typing community would like to believe, handwriting analysis simply doesn’t cut it. Like face reading, it is one of those things where the observer’s own biases supply the results, rather than the handwriting itself saying anything about the person that is supposedly being analyzed.

References: Graphological studies

  • Bayne, R., & O’Neill, F. (1988): Handwriting and personality. Guidance and Assessment Review (4): 1–3.
  • Ben-Shakar et al. (1986): Journal of Applied Psychology 71: 645–653.
  • Kahneman, et al. (1982): Judgment under uncertainty. Cambridge University Press pp. 211–238
  • Robertson & Smith (2010): Personnel selection. The British Psychological Society 2010
  • http://www.opp.com/en/blog/2012/october/does-graphology-work

 

1 Comment

  1. L.Sisco says:

    As children we are all taught how to write in school the same way. As we mature we stylize what we learn based on our preferences of style, showmanship, simplicity, individuality, etc…which is a direct correlation to our personality. So you can indeed use hand writing analysis as a tool to identifying personality preferences that align with the 4 MBTI dichotomies. Neither are a true “science”, like chemistry, they are just tools to help asses personality preferences – which change! A person can feel depressed and introverted one day and happy and extraverted another. The same goes for reading body language: In order to read body gestures and facial expressions you need to baseline people first and then look for clusters of tells in order to make an type of analysis and even then, you could be wrong. After all, we are not mind readers.

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