Handwriting analysis: accurate tool or mumbo jumbo?
Countless forms of measurement have been brought to bear on the recruitment, assessment and development of personnel. Is there any place among them for graphology? Supporters of handwriting analysis claim that it offers a personality profile as accurate as any other method, and at a fraction of the cost. The muscles that control writing reflect unconscious impulses in the brain, they argue. Properly interpreted, the strokes, pressures and loops of handwriting can reveal strengths, weaknesses, even hidden motivations.
In the words of Lawrence Warner, head of the International Grapho-analysis Society, graphology works by revealing 'anxieties that lie at the root of a person's behaviour'. Warner uses graphology with his 100 corporate clients, which include Times Top 1,000 companies. He does not rely on it exclusively, however. Indeed he argues that handwriting should never be used as a sole tool, but that it provides 'additional understanding and helps make more informed decisions. It helps to reduce the lottery of the personnel field.' Approximately 3% of UK companies currently use graphology for recruitment, he believes.
In a Mori/IPM poll earlier this year, only two of 123 personnel directors mentioned graphology among their methods. However, Warner maintains that its use is more widespread than the figures suggest. 'Companies try to keep it confidential,' he says. 'There is a tendency to consider it something akin to witchcraft.' The merchant bankers S G Warburg and the conglomerate Heron International are two more companies which admit to employing graphology, although Warburg remains coy. 'We use (it) as part of the recruitment process, but I can't go further than that,' says a spokesperson. 'The fact we use it must prove that we think it's useful.' At Heron International graphology has played a part in all management appointments since 1986. According to Heron, 'It helps to get to know the real person behind the interview mask.' The British Psychological Society (BPS) and Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) have yet to be convinced. Last year a BPS assessment of 30 years' scientific investigation into tests used in the personnel field concluded that graphology was 'mumbo-jumbo'. Dr Donald McLeod, former chairman of the BPS steering committee on test standards, gave it no marks. 'It comes right at the bottom of the heap,' he says. 'You might as well take a stack of applications and throw them out of the window, then choose those that land face up.' A more recent investigation by the Institute of Personnel Management (now the IPD) was 'unable to discover any scientific evidence which proves the validity of graphology as a predictor of personality.' The IPD still doesn't dismiss graphology out of hand. However, 'for the moment it is clear that the evidence in favour is inconclusive and based on anecdotal evidence which is prone to bias and misinterpretation.' The Institute concludes: 'At present we find no viable argument why graphology should be seen as a real alternative to properly validated personality assessments.' It's pretty much thumbs down then. Yet handwriting does tell you something about people. You know in advance whether their hastily scribbled memos will be legible.