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Rigil Kent (December 18, 2008, 20:46:21 PM):
Graphology is the technical art of drawing conclusions about someone's character/ personality based on the analysis of his handwriting. Typically, the practitioner would scrutinize a few paragraphs written by the test subject, and look for standard patterns or quirks in the handwriting.

I was surprised to learn form this video ( not sure of the date ) that there are some real world applications for graphology.



Somehow, I have always considered graphology as slightly more credible than its, uhm, sister sciences of palmistry, crystal balls and tarrot cards.

My reason for this view is that patterns in handwriting (a) actually exist, and (b) are directly generated (in contrast to tea leaves) by the individual in question.

From experience, I have also noticed that I tend to dot my i's far more aggressively at the end of a frustrating day. >:(

It seems reasonable to speculate that the author's personality or emotions may spill over in his doodling. Any thoughts?

Mefiante (December 18, 2008, 22:05:35 PM):
Graphology in Robert Todd Carroll’s The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Graphology in James Randi’s An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

Those should clear up a few misconceptions.

'Luthon64
Rigil Kent (December 18, 2008, 23:57:46 PM):
Thanks for the links, which I've read with interest. Still, for the moment I not prepared to dismiss graphology as outright bunk, and here is why.

We rely on facial expressions, tone of voice and the gestures of our fellow man as clues to his state of mind, his personality, or even his expected actions. Effectively we are comparing the observed clues to a set of standards in our minds, and instantly draw conclusions.

In fact, we are so good at reading and interpreting the clues that other humans broadcast, that one can't help but wonder if this was a skill that was honed over a long (millenia) period of time. There must surely be at least one evolutionary advantage for picking up subtle clues for, say, aggression from a competing individual.

Graphologists seem to make similar attempts at discovering personality traits, but are using the written word as clue, and textbook standards.

So if, and this is a big if, handwriting can be demostrated as a personality clue, then I see no reason why we can't, at least in principle, derive knowledge from the writers's clues.

There is no question that patterns in handwriting do exist, if only on the level of allowing us to distinguish one writer's text from another.

There is also no denying the poor track record of graphology, when scrutinized closely under controlled conditions. Why, then, does graphology fail? I can think of only 2 reasons:

Either

1. there is genuinely no link between handwriting patterns and the writer's personality.

or

2. There is a link, but we are rubbish at interpreting it. Writing is a new kid on the block of human history. We may not have discovered how to read the clues properly. (And maybe we never will. When was the last time you've WRITTEN a letter?)

Anyway, I'm not defending graphology, just putting it out there that it may be, from a rational point of view, the least worrysome of the pseudosciences, most of which are objectionable on several accounts.

My doubt in graphology can be reduced to a single objection: lack of evidence that a handwriting quirk correlates with a personality trait.

Mintaka.

AcinonyxScepticus (December 19, 2008, 09:07:32 AM):
*Pushes aside the popcorn*

I thought that I'd quickly pop-in here to raise a few points.  There are a few implicit assumptions in your argument that may need closer scrutiny.
We rely on facial expressions, tone of voice and the gestures of our fellow man as clues to his state of mind, his personality, or even his expected actions. Effectively we are comparing the observed clues to a set of standards in our minds, and instantly draw conclusions.


That is the "common knowledge" wisdom of body language which we have known (for more than a century) is actually not as accurate as we thought it was.  In short we can be downright wrong in most cases.  Freud called it projection and a recent study gathered the hard data and replaced Freud's projection with an evolutionary explanation.  So it works similar to confirmation bias; if we (his fellow sceptics) look at a picture of James Randi we might see a mischievous yet wise face while his enemies see a hard-hearted, aloof cynic.  Reading Randi's writings or listening to his lectures we pick-out the phrases, expressions and sentiments that confirm our pre-conceived notions, thus proving our original judgement right (even though both groups are probably wrong - the people we know are far more complex than the boxes we put them into).

Graphology works in a very similar way.  I must mention that when I was in high school, I took a graphology book out from the school library and I thought that it was geniunely scientific and sparked my interest in psychology.  Over time I have been disabused of that high regard for the subject - but gradually.

Anyway, I'm not defending graphology, just putting it out there that it may be, from a rational point of view, the least worrysome of the pseudosciences ...


And that's what we're all here for; rational discussion and the opinions of our peers.

James
Mefiante (December 19, 2008, 09:09:42 AM):
I think the essential difficulty with graphology, as with a slew of other pseudosciences, is that graphologists tend to want to read too much into a person’s handwriting. We often observe a direct correlation between a person’s behaviour at any given moment and their mental state, for example anger or disappointment. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that certain broad-base mental states or attitudes will affect the person’s outward expression, in particular their handwriting. Note also that while we may be able to establish such correlations statistically (say, between some objective measure of “spikiness” in the handwriting and a person’s irritability), it is an error of reasoning to suggest that this correlation holds in every case.

Moreover, graphology also assumes – inconsistently, it may be noted – that people’s temporary moods don’t affect their handwriting and thus their character profiles. I have before me a 140-page book by Barbara Hill titled Handwriting Analysis. It is littered with such sweeping, unqualified and ultimately platitudinous claims as, “A small loop high on the stem suggests a narrow-minded attitude,” “The initial letter of each word reveals the writer’s intended social attitude,” “In the upper zone (intellectuality) concealing strokes tell us that the writer’s thoughts are private,” and so forth. The book also includes a few examples of “analysis” which read not much different from an astrology column: vague generalities couched in pleasingly innocuous prose. In this context one should take heed of the Forer effect.

'Luthon64

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