WRITINGS AND WRONGS

Handwriting has long been used to assess personality but, as Roger Dobson explains, it is now providing graphologists with an early warning system for diseases
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The Independent Culture
"Hire the left-handed: It's fun to watch them write," says the badge pinned to the lapel of Patricia Siegel, the president of the American Society of Professional Grapho-logists. Her slogan not only serves as black humour for "lefties", it also helps to get across the point that handwriting varies and is influenced by a range of factors.

To the trained eye, handwriting samples can already give pointers to the writer's identity, personality, and even to their suitability for a specific job. Now handwriting analysis is gaining ground as an indicator of disease. Based on the premise that handwriting is a mental and physical act, where malfunctions are known to herald disorders, graphologists are asking why it shouldn't reflect mental and physiological changes as well? Researchers believe that a variety of disorders and diseases can be detected, and even predicted, ahead of symptoms. Research has been carried out on Parkinson's disease, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, brain damage, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorder.

Graphology as a science is the analysis of handwriting and practitioners look at elements of form, movement and space. The closeness of words, lines and letters, the density and pressure of writing, the width of the margins, the proportions of upper and lower elements of the letters, the size of words and the slope of lines are all clues.

In Europe and the US, graphology has recently been advancing in leaps and bounds. In France in particular, graphologists like Paris-based Monique Riley have been used extensively by employers in job recruitment and for psychological profiles.

"Some writing is more telling and points to the main traits of character and personality. Some is very revealing. I can tell if someone is more or less out-going, and whether, for instance, they are a pragmatic kind of person," says Riley, a member of the Societe Francaise de la Graphologie.

But it is the concept of handwriting and changes in handwriting as an indicator of symptoms of disease which offers the tantalising prospect of a whole new area for graphology as well as another diagnostic tool for clinicians. "Handwriting is a result of impulses from the brain and central nervous system and therefore the behaviour of the pen on the page can be used to assess the psychological and often the physiological stability of the writer. Indications of ill-health appear in handwriting before they manifest themselves bodily," says Bernadette Keefe, graphologist and governor of the London College of Graphology.

New York-based Patricia Siegel, who was co-director of the handwriting analysis programme at the New York School of Social Research for 17 years, agrees: "Our handwriting is directed by the central nervous system and any injury to the central nervous system will affect handwriting. The most obvious example is that as people become elderly, they have some shake or tremor in their hand when writing. But it also occurs in other ways. People with Parkinson's disease tend to write smaller. I believe that health is reflected in writing particularly when there are changes."

A small but growing amount of research suggests links between health and writing, and a number of university researchers in New York and at Cornell are currently involved in ongoing programmes. In California, physicians are working with graphologists on a number of research projects including the possibility of finding clues about heart problems in handwriting.

Researchers in Wurzburg and Innsbruck who have investigated Parkinson's say it is possible to predict the disease 20 years before its onset by analysing the handwriting which changes form in an identifiable way as the disease progresses.

Clinicians and scientists do not reject the idea. Professor Suzanne Corkin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert in the brain imaging of Parkinson's, said: "You can see the writing getting smaller progressively in what is called micrographia. It is possible that you could predict it before symptoms appear by looking at the handwriting, but little work has been done in that area."

Handwriting may also give indications with Alzheimer's disease. Ex-US President Ronald Reagan's handwriting, particularly that in a letter he wrote acknowledging he had the degenerative disease, has been closely examined by graphologists.

The link between handwriting clues and cancer was made some time ago in research by a New York hospital team who put examples of the writing of 10,000 people under the microscope. Their theory was that the onset of malignant disease interfered with neuromuscular activity.

Strokes in the writing were irregular, letters were stiff and angular and over time there were marked variations in the size of letters and in the distance between them. "The result is a resistance to the free flowing movements of the normal writing mechanism. The data obtained suggests a definite deterioration of neuromuscular co-ordination, as manifested in the handwriting, is observable in patients with malignant disease," the team said in their report.

The use of handwriting analysis for indications of schizophrenia is based on research published in France which involved 40 adult sufferers aged 18 to 25. Researchers found 10 features of the handwriting of those with schizophrenia which were not present, or present at a much reduced rate, in a control group. Other research looked at blood pressure, where a group of people were asked to write a paragraph of text immediately after having their blood pressure measured. The researchers found that as the blood pressure increased, the writing became more cramped and more upright.

"Angular writing may indicate high blood pressure. Narrow writing may be an indication of a heart which is contracting strongly to overcome resistance in the arteries or due to the irregularity in blood distribution to the fingers," says their report.

Research into the writing of children found that those with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis had very small writing where the range of movement and direction of letters is very limited. With epilepsy there was an overwriting of letters. Teams in the US, Germany and France have undertaken research on medical graphology and more is planned. Graphologists in the UK would like more to be done here since a valuable diagnostic tool may be lying unused.

As Bernadette Keefe says: "Subtle clues to the human condition are on the page in front of us, all we have to do is look." !

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