As early as 500 BCE, the Chinese philosopher Confucius believed he could detect personality traits in a person’s handwriting. “Beware,” he advised, “of a man whose writing sways like a reed in the wind.” Four centuries later, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was analyzing the handwriting of Augustus Caesar. But the world would have to wait 1,700 years more for what is considered to be the first book on graphology: The Means of Knowing the Habits and Qualities of a Writer from His Letters, published in 1622 by an Italian physician named Camillo Baldi.
Graphology—the study of handwriting—is one of those controversial subjects frequently dismissed as pseudoscience. According to the British Psychological Society, handwriting analysis, along with astrology, is said to have “zero validity”. But Emma Bache, one of Britain’s leading graphologists, is unperturbed by such criticism. She is consulted on employment issues, has had columns in the Financial Times and The Times analyzing the handwriting of public figures, and is regularly called on for political comment.
“Handwriting is a form of fine motor coordination,” she explains. “As such, it originates in the brain, not the fingers. If you are naturally right-handed and, for some reason, have to relearn to write with your left hand, your handwriting will eventually become the same as it was before. Graphology is a tool for analyzing what goes on in the mind—a blend of science and the art of interpretation.”
It was her interest in psychology that led Bache to the study of handwriting. She is trained as a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and forensic linguist as well as a graphologist; the practical application of her skills is sought by insurance companies, banks, and intelligence agencies. To this end, she harnesses graphological skills to analyze language patterns such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
In her book Reading Between the Lines, Bache shares the basics of graphology, as well as making enlightening comment on writing by figures from Hollywood royalty to the blue-blooded version. Chapters address such elements as zonal balance (inverted lower loops known as the “felon’s claw”, for example, might signal deception), slant, spacing, baseline, pressure, connecting strokes, and form quality—the general flow of the script. The personal pronoun and the signature warrant chapters to themselves. But, Bache stresses, “No single element can be taken in isolation. You have to look at the whole picture.” It’s a picture that can reveal both permanent character traits (confidence, honesty, creativity) and transient ones. “All forms of psychology are an inexact science,” she concedes. “But the only three things I cannot determine from handwriting are the subject’s age, gender, and whether they are left- or right-handed.
“You could say handwriting is body language on paper. But in an age obsessed with screens and social media, we don’t even look at other people. We are losing human contact and the innate intuition that helps us make vital judgements about others. As this is bred out of us, the insights graphology and other forms of psychology can offer will only become more important.”
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