As we draw closer to official election season here in the UK, the number of “silly season” political stories has been increasing steadily. Monday’s Telegraph article on the party leaders was a case in point. They reported Cosmopolitan’s attempt to gain insight into the personalities of the main parties’ leaders… by using graphology.
Graphology, for those of you lucky to avoided it thus far, is a psuedo-science that advocates the analysis of handwriting as a tool for personality assessment. Yes, handwriting analysis is still around, despite the best attempts of real scientists to demonstrate its complete and utter lack of validity.
There are two concepts central to any psychometric assessment: validity and reliability. Validity is basically the extent to which your test measures the construct it claims to measure. Reliability refers to the various ways in which your test can be viewed as accurate. Sound, scientific tests needs both, but it’s important to realise that an assessment method can be reliable (you get similar results time after time, for example) without being valid. Graphology is a case in point.
Although vaguely entertaining (on a slow news day, perhaps) when applied in this context, graphology is an absolutely pointless method to adopt when assessing potential employees. A well-design competency-based interview will tell you far more about a job candidate than any analysis of their scrawl ever will. Sadly, graphology is still used in these contexts, despite it’s utter failure to accurately select the right candidate any better than pure chance.
Why? Perhaps because at first, it appears like a logical claim: your handwriting is reflective of your personality. And studies have demonstrated that the average person can determine the gender of someone from looking at their handwriting in about 70% of cases. A list of studies examining the utility of graphology can be found here. In summary, they point to it being a waste of time.
Statistics on the deployment of graphology in recruitment are very hard to come by. That, I think, is reflective of the success graphology has achieved. If businesses were finding graphology to be the best selection tool ever, don’t you think they’d be proud to tell the world they were using it?
I thought so.
I think The Skeptic’s Dictionary expresses it best:
Graphology is another pipe dream of those who want a quick and dirty decision making process to tell them who to marry, who did the crime, who they should hire, what career they should seek, where the good hunting is, where the water, oil, or buried treasure is, etc.
Graphology is another in a long list of quack substitutes for hard work. It is appealing to those who are impatient with such troublesome matters as research, evidence analysis, reasoning, logic, and hypothesis testing.
If you want results and you want them now and you want them stated in strong, certain terms, graphology is for you. If, however, you can live with reasonable probabilities and uncertainty, you might try another method to pick a spouse or hire an employee.
Furnham, Adrian. “Write and Wrong: The Validity of Graphological Analysis,” in The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal, ed. Kendrick Frazier (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991), pp. 200-205.
Beyerstein, Barry and Dayle F. Beyerstein, editors, The Write Stuff – Evaluations of Graphology, the Study of Handwriting Analysis (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991).
How Graphology Fools People – Barry Beyerstein Link