by Joelle Steele

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Graphology is the ancient science and study of handwriting. As early as 400 BC, Aristotle had become interested in the relationship between handwriting and personality. In China, as early as 1000 AD, at least one man, painter and philosopher Kuo Jo Hsu, said that handwriting could reveal whether a person was "noble-minded or vulgar." By 200AD, G. Suetonius Tranquillus noted that emperor Octavius Augustus did not separate the words or carry excess letters over to the next line. In the mid-1st century AD, Roman emperor Nero remarked that he did not trust a man because his handwriting revealed him to be a treacherous individual.

Some centuries later in 1622, Camillo Baldi noted that people had characteristic ways of writing and he set about the arduous task of breaking down handwriting into its smallest elements or characteristics. These were then further developed by the French school of Abbe Jean-Hippolyte Michon and Jules Crepieux-Jamin. Michon originated the term "graphology" and authored "Les Mysteres de l'Ecriture" ("The Mysteries of Handwriting") and "La Methode Pratique de Graphologie" ("The Practical Method of Graphology"). Crepieux-Jamin is considered the most important French graphologist. He was the founder of the school of "isolated signs," which related elements of handwriting to specific personality traits, and he was responsible for breaking down the physical components of handwriting into pressure and speed, form, dimension, direction, activity, and order — elements that are analyzed to this day.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that a united approach to graphological theory was provided by a study of the handwriting movement — the graphomotor process — rather than the end product or the handwriting itself. In this way, handwriting joined speech, gait, and facial expression as an expressive movement.

The German philosopher Dr. Ludwig Klages is credited with creating the basis of graphology as a science. He wrote five books on graphology and became the leading authority and force on the subject. In Germany, graphology is highly regarded to this day as a common-place tool for use in business and in personnel selection and vocational guidance, and the subject is incorporated into many university psychology classes. Klages' approach to graphology was based on the totality (the "Gestalt") of the writing sample and the differentiation of the individual elements. He postulated that the mind and soul are always dynamically at variance and are actualized in the human expressive movements such as walk, speech, gesture, and writing, where the movements between the two are captured and recorded and are most accessible for study and interpretation.

Dr. Max Pulver was a professor at the University of Zurich whose work in German extended Klages' system into the area of psychoanalysis. Pulver added depth to the existing dimensions of height and width and equated them with pressure, symbolically representing the individual's libido or instinctive biological functioning. He referred to movements in the breadth dimension as symbolically either moving away from or towards the environment. Pulver's upper zone corresponds to heaven and the intellect, spirit, and idealism; the middle to earth and reality, and the lower to the nether regions of the physical and material. These he found analogous to Freud's concepts of personality: id, ego, and super-ego.

Many famous people, including George Sand, Dumas (pere), Zola, Thomas Mann, Chekhov, Einstein, Robert Browning, and Baudelaire expressed more than just a passing interest in graphology over the centuries. Poe had a collection of autographs and used a form of "intuitive" graphology. Gainsborough, while painting a portrait, would keep a letter written by his model before him on the easel. Disraeli wrote that handwriting was an analogy of the character of the writer. Goethe spoke of the study of handwriting and its relations to character as a positive or given fact. Sir Walter Scott wrote about handwriting and a man's character in "Chronicles of Canogate" and believed the omission of i-dots to be a sign of genius.

Graphology works because handwriting is so unique. Everyone learns to write by copying from the same models of letters, but each person copies a little differently. The size of their handwriting can vary, as can height, pressure, spacing, slant, etc. While students are learning by copying, they also begin to add their own individual features, called "idiosyncratic traits," those little bits of their personalities coming through. Patterns of ordered steps that are required to duplicate characters become a fixed part of their mental processes. Eventually, handwriting becomes automatic and the person has established a habitual task. Mental and physical ability are joined to produce handwriting and the handwriting pattern is both unconscious and habitual.

Over time and with use, handwriting differences become more pronounced. By the teenage years, the ability to write cursive is automatic. As adults, handwriting is well-developed, and as people age and their personalities change, their handwriting evolves even further. No two handwriting samples by different writers are ever exactly the same, no matter how similar they may appear. Even printed writing styles contain many of the features of cursive handwriting styles and are so unique that they can be analyzed in the same way.

Today, graphology is used by psychologists to gain insight into patients and by businesses to assess job candidates, The same traits evaluated and interpreted for psychological profiling are also used in detecting forgery and the identification of anonymous writers, which are the most widely used applications of graphology in the United States, and which are more commonly referred to as graphoanalysis or document examination. Today, the handwriting styles of most Western cultures are more similar than in the past, but a few distinct handwriting traits can still be found that give us a hint as to the country of origin of the writer.

This article last updated: 02/16/2009.