A handy new way to think about your John Hancock

a/Student Living by

How do you take notes in class? On your laptop right?

Most of us learned to print the alphabet the same way, using the same models, and often the same,  techniques. Although there is a universal model for handwriting, the way we form letters varies greatly among individuals. That’s because we all approach the process of writing in different ways. In fact, the way you write may say a lot about your personality.

Handwritten class notes have gotten uncreasingly uncommon, and the less we write by hand, the more out of practice we become. As laptops, tablets and handheld mobiles are becoming our media of choice, some are saying that handwritten text is becoming an irrelevant method of communication altogether. In this context, graphology—the reading of an individual’s personality structure through the analysis of their handwriting—shifts some focus once again to an increasingly esoteric habit.

Graphologists like Toronto’s Annette Poizner, author of Clinical Graphology: An Interpretive Manual for Mental Health Practitioners, believe that handwriting can be useful for a variety of purposes other than communication. Most importantly, they tout the use of handwriting samples by mental health specialists to gain insight into patients’ personality traits and emotional dispositions. The practice may have positive implications for university health centres looking to broaden access to counselling and mental health.

An interview with Poizner provided plenty of insight into the scientific theory behind graphology and its uses. Handwriting, which Poizner describes as “the written trace of each individual’s preferred rhythm, style and habitual manner of moving,” is used in what is called projective personality assessment. In the assessment, psychologists evaluate subtleties such as the length of pen strokes, the size of writing, the shape of letters, which side of the margin is left wider than the other, and the fluidity in penmanship. According to Poizner, these attributes can tell a graphologist with a sharply trained eye a great deal about someone with whom they have never even spoken. If graphology was implemented into traditional counselling and psychology services, a patient could conceivably send over samples to be analyzed, and allow professionals a considerable understanding of the patients’ personalities even before their first face-to-face appointment. Analysis of drawings and written material can be used in this manner as well.

Is this tactic truly scientific or just a ruse, in the vein of fortune telling or tarot reading?  Can it really produce scientifically accurate and meaningful results?

Poizner cautions that graphology is more of a “therapeutic tool” than an empirical scientific measure, and emphasizes that graphology should always be used alongside other more traditional assessment methods. However, she underlines that previous research participants in observational studies examining graphology done at the University of Toronto have reported positive experiences with handwriting analysis. In general, researchers found that participants were more eager to participate and respond openly to therapeutic evaluation after first encountering these more unconventional method. Knowledge gleaned from graphological analysis were used to help guide discussion in subsequent face-to-face appointments. Notably, these  insights were particularly useful in the context of family and marital therapy, as they provided substantial context about patients’ personalities and communicative differences.

Even if students remain skeptical about the true effectiveness of graphology—as does this author—Poizner thinks students should recognize the field’s growing relevance. Recently, studies and publications on graphology have been well-received by the Canadian Psychological Association, and the Canadian Association of Spirituality and Social Work. Although graphology is not currently widely-practiced in North America, it could be an up-and-coming influence on the practices of psychiatry, psychology and social work. Professionals and students alike may find it worthwhile to give handwriting and graphology a second look, as a means of getting to know themselves a little bit better.