Although it got some support in the 20th century, there is very little scientific evidence to support graphology. The pattern of your handwriting doesn’t describe your personality; graphology belongs in the same group as palm reading and astrology.

Writing History

In 1575, a Spanish physician by the name of Juan Huarte de San Juan published what is likely the first book on handwriting analysis: Examen de ingenios para las ciencias. It seemed to make a lot of sense. Writing is a very personal act, and everyone writes in a different way, so it seems logical that writing is connected to someone’s personality. Italian philosopher Camillo Baldi wrote another book on the matter in 1622 (Trattato come da una lettera missiva si conoscano la natura e qualita dello scrittore), but the idea didn’t really pick up until much later, in the 19th century, with Jean-Hippolyte Michon.

You could say that Michon is the grandfather of graphology. He published several papers on the subject and founded Société Graphologique in 1871. His students carried on his ideas, coming up with a holistic way of analyzing handwriting. After the first World War, it spread across Europe and to America, where it spread and picked up a lot of support. But study after study failed to find any reliable evidence behind graphology.

In 1929, graphology suffered a significant split. Milton Bunker founded The American Grapho Analysis Society teaching graphoanalysis, which looked at individual patterns in the writing as opposed to a holistic approach. Supporters of this approach believed that there is more scientific validity to looking at individual clues.

What the science says

The one area in which graphology has proven some value is gender identification.

Graphology (sometimes called graphoanalysis) should not be confused with the term graphanalysis — that one letter makes a big difference. The latter is the forensic technique of analyzing documents and letters with the purpose of identifying the author, the former is the belief that handwriting predicts personality traits. But the science disagrees.

Study after study showed that graphology fails at predicting any personality traits. A 1982 meta-analysis of over 200 studies found that graphologists were unable to predict any kind of personality trait on any personality test. The analysis has since been quoted by over 400 other studies.

Things haven’t really changed since.

In a 1988 study, authors conclusively showed that graphologists were unable to predict scores on the Myers-Briggs test. Despite this, more and more companies started using graphology. The allure of the technique was too strong for many, even without any scientific evidence. Rowan Bayne, a British psychologist said that “it’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.”

The notable exception is gender. Several studies have demonstrated that gender can be determined at a significant level, though any other trait remains, at the very best, inconclusive.

Just don’t read into it too much.

The CIA report

Interestingly, a CIA report also assessed the potential of graphology. Of course, the Agency could greatly benefit from such a technique.

“For the clandestine services, however, graphology as a validated assessment technique might have application in a sufficient number of instances, those where background investigation is impossible, to warrant considerable research to determine its effectiveness,” the study reads.

However, the report highlights no evidence that graphology does, in fact work.

“Two threads of argument run through the foregoing article on handwriting analysis. The first asserts the great need for research studies because “a proper test run has never been devised and carried out, at least not in the United States[..].” The second asserts the value of graphology here and now as an assessment technique, making sweeping claims of what it can do. The arguments are essentially incompatible. If the claims are correct, the research is unnecessary; if there is no research evidence, the claims are unsupported. With the need for research to establish the value of graphology as an assessment technique I am in full agreement. I disagree with the claims for its current effectiveness.”

Brain studies show that writing is a complex phenomenon. Even something as simple as scribbling a “get milk” note activates many areas of your brain. There might be a way to infer something about your personality, but we haven’t found it yet — and at the moment, it doesn’t seem very likely.

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