System devised at University of Haifa can read moods, lies, Parkinson’s

Using this system, researchers discovered that changes in handwriting can reveal when we are lying and can even disclose whether an individual is in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.

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February 15, 2018 16:25
2 minute read.
University of Haifa.

University of Haifa.. (photo credit: ZVI ROGER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A computerized system developed at the University of Haifa can identify moods – independent of a person’s subjective report – by finding tiny changes in handwriting.

While graphologists have long argued that our handwriting reveals our personality, university researchers say it also reveals our present mood and if we are lying, and can even identify early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

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According to cognitive theory, when the brain – which does not have infinite resources – executes several actions simultaneously, secondary actions, including automatic ones, are impaired.

Prof. Sarah Rosenblum developed a computerized system capable of measuring minute changes in handwriting, such as the space between the letters, the amount of pressure we apply when writing and other factors. Using this system, she discovered that changes in handwriting can reveal when we are lying – both orally and in writing – and can even disclose whether an individual is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

In the latest study, Prof. Gil Luria, Dr. Alon Kahane, and doctorate student Clara Rispler, from the human services department at the university, worked together with Prof. Sarah Rosenblum, of the occupational therapy department, to examine whether changes in handwriting can be used to identify moods.

The study included 62 participants who were divided randomly into three groups. Each group underwent an activity that put the participants in a different mood – positive, negative and neutral – by viewing appropriate movies. Each group of participants was then asked to write a paragraph on the computerized system that included all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

The study revealed differences among the three groups in various parameters relating to handwriting. In other words, the participants in each group were in a different mood and the differences can be gauged empirically. For example, the height of the letters written by people in a negative mood was significantly lower than in the case of people in a positive or neutral mood. It was also found that participants in a negative mood showed quicker writing and narrower width of letters than those in a positive or neutral mood. The researchers explain that it is probably the negative mood that creates a cognitive burden on the brain, leading in turn to changes in handwriting.

“There’s a problem measuring emotions using objective indexes that are completely free of what the subject tells us,” explained Rispler. “An ability to identify the subject’s emotions easily and noninvasively could lead to a breakthroughs in research and in emotional therapy.”

Techniques for measuring mood are based mostly on self-reporting or on evaluation by an external observer, the researchers said. Physiological tests are complex and very expensive and usually disrupt routine functioning. In addition, people may be unaware of their own mood or for various reasons report a mood that is very different from their actual one. Therefore, the ability to develop an objective and simple index that causes no disruption to regular functioning is very important both in the research field and in therapeutic contexts.

“The findings may help therapists identify their patient’s actual mood, something that naturally is very significant for the therapeutic process,” Rosenblum concludes. “No less important, we therapists can see whether our therapy is improving the patient’s feelings, or at least involving the patient in a meaningful process, for better or for worse. In the future, we will try to examine whether we can also measure the level of how happy or sad someone is.”


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