The question at issue here is whether the conclusions and assertions made following the analysis of a handwriting are objectively correct. This involves validation at the level of interpretation, something that has to date most frequently come in for criticism.
Over the last hundred years almost 50 doctoral theses on this subject have been submitted to faculties in many different disciplines in the German-speaking world. Hypotheses were formed on an empirical basis and correlated with tests or external criteria (= professional success).
It is fundamentally not possible to interpret handwriting by identifying its individual features, and this is why the question of validity is examined using groups of features, in particular according to the method of factor analysis.
„In some cases the result has already been influenced by the organisational setup of the investigation, especially when involving examiners with a negative approach to graphology. (…) Inferior results can also be observed when unqualified experts are consulted about studies.“ *1)
*1) Lewinsky, Robert: Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Graphologie in der klinisch-diagnostischen Praxis, Phil. Diss. Zurich 1977, p. 28.
In 1945 Hans Jürgen Eysenck arrived at the following conclusion in the British Journal of Psychology: „Taken together, these results seem to show fairly conclusively that it is possible for a skilled graphologist to diagnose personality traits from handwriting with better-than-chance success.“
In global terms we can say that when the validity of graphology is examined, it will offer results that are perfectly comparable with those of other methods and sometimes even surpass them.
In the field of psychology the interest in personality testing started to decline around 1973 and was only rekindled in the form of theoretical personality models by the“Big5″ at the beginning of the 1990s. Schuler appears somewhat resigned to this in his summary of the situation, „The available meta-analyses seem at present to generalise too strongly about existing systematic influences. Perhaps we need to wait a few years until sufficient primary studies have been carried out with direct Big5 measurements.“ *2)
*2) Schuler, Heinz: Lehrbuch der Personalpsychologie, Hogrefe, Göttingen 2001, p. 115.
The term meta-analysis is a technique for combining the empirical findings of different independent studies dealing with a single issue. A synthesis of graphological studies written in German was drawn up by Rainer Doubrawa in his thesis entitled „Handschrift und Persönlichkeit“ when taking his PhD at the University of Bonn in 1978. This task was undertaken for the English-speaking world by Olivia Graham of London, in her article published in the journal „Angewandte Graphologie und Persönlichkeitsdiagnostik, No. 2, 50th year, Au-gust 2002, p. 74 – 82. The language barrier however means that all research reported in German is virtually unknown in England and the USA!
A number of important studies are listed below:
1. Wolf-Dieter Rasch: Hat sich die Graphologie bewährt?, Hans Huber, Bern and Stuttgart 1957 (a study asking whether graphology has proved its worth)
114 graphological assessments carried out by the Institute of Psychology at the University of Freiburg were compared with the results obtained by asses-sors at a private firm in a questionnaire involving 18 questions and scales of 1 to 6. These assessors had observed each employee at the company for some time. A control group was used to check the correlation between assessments. The assessments made by the different assessors at the firm for one and the same employee showed agreement of 79%, so demonstrating that the ques-tionnaire was fit for its intended purpose.
The analysis of 114 cases resulted in around 75% agreement between the company assessors and the graphologists. The prognostic value of the gra-phological report prior to the appointment of new staff is first and foremost based on the overall aspects of the personality.
(This study, which was very painstaking in terms of method, is still available second-hand via the Internet.)
2. Langer, George: Graphology in Personality Assessment: A Reliability and Validity Study, doctoral thesis, Adelphi University 1993
Here the results obtained by two graphologists (Felix Klein and Roger Rubin) were compared with those of 14 clinical psychologists (PhD students) under experimentally and methodologically rigorous conditions. The test subjects were 21 adults aged between 18 and 54 years, who took part in a battery of standard clinical tests at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute. Both the clinical psychologists and the graphologists were asked to complete the Q-data (Q=questionnaire) according to Block’s California Q-Sort method (1978). This consists of 100 items describing personality on a scale from 1 – 9 (from the least to the most apt) and provides a quasi-normal distribution of descriptions.
The results of the study led to the conclusion that it is indeed possible to make accurate and reliable assessments of personality by means of handwriting analysis. The clinicians and graphologists were also generally in agreement where DSM-III-R diagnosis was concerned. All three hypotheses put forward by the study were confirmed, in particular the second hypothesis relating to the validity of the graphological Q-data. Significant positive correlations be-tween .21 and .45 were established, without significant negative correlations being observed.
This method had however the disadvantage that the questionnaire was strongly behaviour-oriented and focused less on the subconscious, emotions or fantasies, aspects that both clinical testing and handwriting analysis try to explore.
(The graphologist Felix Klein is unfortunately no longer alive, and it would be no easy matter to find someone else equally qualified to carry out a study on the same lines in the USA.)
3. Jürgen Guthke, Jens F. Beckmann, Gabriele Schmidt: Ist an der Graphologie doch etwas dran? Untersuchungen zur Übereinstimmung von Graphologenurteil und psychometrischen Persönlichkeitstests, in: Zeitschrift für Personalpsychologie, Hogrefe, Göttingen 2002, p. 171 – 176 (a study asking whether there is something to graphology after all)
This study was carried out on sixty first-year students of psychology at the University of Leipzig. Psychometric testing of selected personality characteris-tics included the 16 Factor Test, the Trier Personality Questionnaire, the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory and the Need Achievement Test. In addition, a so-called objective personality test , a series of tests entitled „Attitude to Work“ was also used. The test subjects were asked to copy out an identical text under standardised conditions (paper, writing utensil, situation). Five qualified graphologists then used the copied text to give a joint verdict about seven di-mensions of assessment on a scale of 1 – 5. These seven dimensions were: Social impulsivity, Cognitive impulsivity, Social inhibition (Introversion), Need achievement, Conscientiousness, Tolerance of frustration and Inner calm.
„We can sum up with the following conclusion: Whenever the questionnaires deliver possibly invalid results, above all due to an increased tendency to de-liver the socially appropriate response (as for example in the case of aptitude testing), the verdict of graphologists is potentially of interest as it offers the diagnostician „additional information“ which does not lend itself so easily to falsification. Grounds for this assumption can be found in our study, in particu-lar where the dimension Introversion / Extraversion is concerned. (…) As the handwriting samples were given beforehand (i.e. prior to diagnostic assess-ment) and thus do not have to be produced under the influence of the diag-nostician, graphology thus involves a so-called non-reactive method sensu Webb, Campbell, Schwartz and Sechrest (1975), something that offers certain „objectivity benefits“ over standard reactive methods of diagnostics.“
4. S. Mouly, I. Mahé, K. Champion, C. Bertin, J.F. Bergmann: Graphol-ogy for the diagnosis of suicide attempts: a blind proof of principle controlled study, in: International Journal of Clinical Practice, March 2007, p. 411 – 415
Forty patients admitted to two large hospitals in Paris following an attempt at suicide were asked to provide a sample of handwriting on their day of dis-charge. Each wrote a short letter describing a childhood memory while a con-trol group of 40 healthy volunteers were asked to do the same. Two grapholo-gists and two physicians of internal medicine without any understanding of graphology or knowledge of either the patients or the control group then at-tempted to assign the samples, numbered in random order, to either the con-trol or the patient group. The graphologists correctly identified 32 of the 40 scripts as belonging to the patient group, while the score for the internal spe-cialists was 27 out of 40. In addition, the graphologists correctly identified 33 of 40 scripts as belonging to the control group, while the score for the internal specialists was 34 out of 40. The study then finished with the selection of 12 handwriting samples showing signs of sadness or sensitivity. 82% of these scripts were identified correctly by the graphologists and 71% by the internal specialists. Although the graphologists initially disagreed about 12 letters but then reached the correct conclusion in eight cases following consultation. This study thus offers a gratifying level of accuracy, so allowing graphology to be used as an additional instrument for decision-making in the field of psychiatry or internal medicine. (In the study the graphologists did not concern them-selves with individual characteristics but global features or syndromes of fea-tures.)
(to be continued)