Like almost everyone else, I admit I read my horoscope once in a while. Like almost everyone else, I don”t believe for a second that the movements of the planets and stars have anything to do with my life. Nor do I believe my handwriting is an indicator of my character. But graphologists, or handwriting analysts, do.
Liz Mills, a certified handwriting analyst from Livonia, offered free handwriting analyses at Borders Arborland on Jan. 16. Mills, like other handwriting analysts, believes certain features of a person”s handwriting provide insight into a person”s character. These features include letter spacing, slanting, height, loops in certain letters, the crosses of “t”s” and the dots of “i”s.”
An in-depth analysis of a subject”s handwriting may take an hour or more and typically costs around $100. Mills” free analysis varied in length from about five minutes for a single person to about 15 minutes for a married couple.
Mills asked each subject to prepare a writing sample prior to the analysis. Each sample was to begin, “Dear Liz,” include six to eight lines of body text and conclude with the subject”s signature. The body text was to include the subject”s earliest memory, a significant event in the subject”s life or a summary of what the subject had done that day.
In giving her analyses, Mills briefly glanced at the subject”s handwriting sample before beginning to describe the subject”s life and personality. She claimed she did not read the content and began mostly with a general statement such as “You like sports,” or “You are having a difficult time in your life.”
Throughout an analysis, Mills continued glancing back and forth from the handwriting sample to the subject. For some analysis Mills maintained a dialogue with the subject. For others, the subject remained silent for most of the analysis.
Mills concluded each analysis by saying, “If you disagree, I”d like to hear about it.”
Overall, the group of subjects at Borders was satisfied. “She was very accurate,” said Washtenaw Community College freshman Rachel Makarrall. “She was telling everyone before me that they had issues with their mother. With me, she immediately said I wasn”t happy with my father. She was right about my feelings for my father.”
Trevor DuPras, an Ann Arbor resident, agreed. “I would say she was 80 to 90 percent accurate about me,” said DuPras.
Added Makarrall, “She also said that in social situations like parties, I”m content to just stand back and observe. That was another detail about me that was right on.”
When it was my turn, I handed Mills my handwriting sample, and she immediately told me vague things like “You”re creative,” “You don”t like your job” and “You”re something of a perfectionist.” As with the others, she continually looked back and forth from my face to my handwriting sample.
Mills was more or less accurate about me. But she also would have been just as accurate and just as vague if she would have said, “You are a young man of average height and build.”
Debunkers of handwriting analysis point to the techniques of cold reading and to the Barnum effect to explain its apparent accuracy.
Psychics giving cold readings of strangers tend to first make vague claims about their subjects, then fish for details in a dialogue with their subject. For example, the psychic may say, “You are having trouble with your love life.” The subject may reply, “Yes, I think my husband is having an affair.” The psychic may then guess, “You suspect this may not be the first time.” This process continues until the end of the cold reading.
The relative success of a psychic”s cold reading finally rests on the subject forgetting the wrong guesses and only remembering correct guesses.
This can be attributed to the Barnum or Forer effect which is the term used in psychology to describe the phenomenon of people accepting vague and general personality and character descriptions as unique to themselves.
So what if handwriting analysis might be bunk? It was a fun little five minutes, and it was free.