An oddly individual thing – handwriting

Most of us have our own unique style of handwriting that clearly reflects our personal characteristics.

Professional handwriting analyst Dvora Harell (photo credit: CARL HOFFMAN)
Professional handwriting analyst Dvora Harell
(photo credit: CARL HOFFMAN)
Israel, as we all know, is a land full of surprises.
This is true for people born and raised here, for those of us who came to live here years and years ago, and especially true for the new arrivals who leave their native countries and arrive here every day. The newly arrived immigrant – who must deal with government agencies, look for employment, establish a home and begin to settle into a new life – quickly discovers some unexpected obstacles and sometimes astonishing hoops through which he or she must jump.
One of these hoops is graphology, or handwriting analysis. This is the science, or some would say pseudoscience, in which a trained specialist is purportedly able to deduce one’s personality and various personal characteristics from an analysis of one’s handwriting.
New immigrants, especially those from the United States, are often shocked beyond reason when asked to provide handwriting samples when applying for jobs, many believing graphology to be nonsensical hocus-pocus – to be classed, at best, with other dubious sciences such as astrology and, at worst, with such parlor tricks as palm reading and Ouija board séances.
Here in Israel, however, graphology is almost universally considered to be a legitimate indicator of personality, a reliable predictor of behavior, and an indispensable tool for organizational recruitment, interviewing and selection, staff training and development, job promotion, counseling and career planning.
Handwriting samples are required here for everything from job applications to the ability to buy a home in certain upscale communities. One American man of my acquaintance recalls that among his early experiences in Israel was having a woman demand a handwriting analysis – along with a psychometric exam and photocopies of his bank statements – before she would agree to go out with him.
And yet, for every new arrival and occasional Israeli who displays skepticism about graphology, there are usually 10 Israelis who will rise stoutheartedly to its defense. So I sat down recently with Dvora Harell, a full-time professional handwriting analyst, to discover what graphology is and how it is supposed to work.
“The action of writing is an expressive tool,” she says. “It derives from your brain, your temperament, as with any other behavior. The only thing that is really different is that it is centered on the product, and people often don’t see the connection – the obvious connection – between behavior in general and behavior on a page. If you are a very punctual, punctilious, careful and analytic person, you will write punctiliously, taking into account every detail, every t-bar, every i-dot. You will arrange the handwriting in a careful way that agrees with the eye. So when you approach handwriting as behavior, it gets closer and closer to any other kind of behavior.”
But don’t most of us simply write the way we were taught? When I suggest that my own handwriting might simply reflect the Palmer method of “push, pulls and ovals” I was taught in the Boston public schools, Harell laughs and says, “I would sincerely hope that you don’t adhere to the model you were taught. When a person develops his own personality, he changes the forms according to his own personality.
Some people do keep very close to the model they were taught, and that is not a good sign. Where is your own voice? Where is your own character? If you adhere to the model, your individual personality is not developed. We call that kind of handwriting a ‘persona.’ You are not only adhering to the model, you are hiding behind it. You don’t want other people to know who you are.”
Most of us, she says, have our own unique style of handwriting that clearly reflects our personal characteristics.
When I ask how our handwriting does this, Harell replies, “You have a beard, someone else has a beard. Your beard tells a different story than another beard. A French beard, for example, tells a different story than your beard. Handwriting analysis has no mumbo jumbo to it. It’s very logical. If you are an aggressive person, your handwriting will be more angular.
The angles look like shark teeth. And the pressure of the handwriting will be stronger. You will not adhere to the common etiquette of writing, meaning you won’t keep to regular spaces between the words, between letters in a word, or between the lines themselves. It’s clear that you don’t give a damn about anyone. You don’t care whether they understand you or not. You can talk fast, you can swallow your words, you don’t care. You won’t keep your handwriting legible. You won’t keep spaces to differentiate between words. This is very straightforward.It doesn’t involve any magic.”
To demonstrate her point, Harell begins to describe the handwriting of a particular individual and asks me to guess who she is talking about. “If you see a person whose handwriting is larger than life, whose letters are shark-like, writing over things that other people wrote – not below or at the side – what would you say? I would say he’s aggressive, he’s a megalomaniac and he feels that the end justifies his means. I have just described the handwriting of…?” Harell then raises her eyebrows and waits for me to guess. I get her intended answer, Donald Trump, on my second try. A certain Israeli politician who shall remain nameless was actually my first guess. She tells me, yes, it’s Trump, and asks, “Do you want to see his handwriting?” She shows it to me on her laptop and, of course, it is the way she described it. The writing is thick and heavy, and his signature looks like a line of daggers pointing upward. | METRO 15 She says, “What I can vouch for is that being this demonstrative in writing indicates someone who says, ‘I make my own rules. I run over people, and I don’t care.’ It is an uncontrolled, fragile ego that hungers for power. You can see that there’s no place for anyone on this page but him.” When I ask if she would come to the same conclusion about this handwriting without knowing it was written by Trump, Harell emphatically answers, “Yes! The same conclusion.”
I ask Harell whether she thinks it is defensible to deny an otherwise qualified person the job he or she is applying for on the basis of handwriting analysis.
After a brief bit of silence, she says, “No. Handwriting is just one test. To begin with, a graphologist can err. We are not perfect. We can make mistakes.
I always tell my clients that, first of all, they have to rely on their own chemistry. I can send them an analysis that says that the candidate is not what he presents himself to be. They tell me they have great letters of recommendation about him. I tell them that I am a small believer in recommendations but that they should not take my analysis as the sole means to judge him. There are many measures.”
Harell is aware of the skepticism that surrounds the profession but insists that the problem lies with certain graphologists and not with the science of graphology itself. “The weak thing in graphology is that there hasn’t been a methodic way of teaching it. A person can call himself a graphologist after taking a three-month course. There’s no law that really regulates who can be a graphologist. This is our trouble, our weak point. We have this graphologist on television who says things like ‘You have a vitamin D deficiency’ and ‘You will get married next week’ and so on. These are things you cannot deduce from handwriting.
He may be clairvoyant, but he’s giving a terrible name to graphology. This is our main problem.”
While Harell says that she has been fascinated by graphology since she was a teenager and continues to see it as an effective indicator of personality, she distinguishes this – what she calls “psychological graphology” – from “forensic graphology,” which is what she has been focusing more heavily upon during the past 15 years.
“Now most of my clients are lawyers and courts. My main business now is handwriting comparison and document authentication. And there I don’t refer to the person’s character at all. I refer to the resemblance or difference in handwriting on checks, wills, contracts and even works of art.”
For this kind of work, forensic graphology, Harell writes reports, gives depositions and testifies in court as an expert witness.
The work she describes now seems, if a little less interesting than psychological graphology, a bit more grounded in empirical evidence. She says, “I work in cases where I need to know how to detect a forged document, how to determine the year in which it was made. I have a will, for example, that is supposed to be from 1968, and I see that it was done on an ink-jet printer. I’m not a chemist. I don’t analyze the ink, but I examine what is written and the instrument in which it was made. Ink-jet printers weren’t around in 1968. And as for later documents, an ink-jet printer prints differently than a laser printer.”
Signatures are the object of particular scrutiny for Harell, involving precise comparison of different samples for authentication.
For this she relies on a surprisingly broad spectrum of knowledge, including pathology. Harell explains, “You can’t diagnose an illness from looking at handwriting. There is not enough research. But there has been research on how different diseases affect handwriting.
You see a firm, flourishing signature from someone who supposedly was severely diabetic, or more obviously suffering from Parkinson’s disease, then you know you’re looking at a forgery. Someone else, not the sick person, signed that signature.”
Harell was recently called in to determine whether a painting purportedly by Nahum Gutman was indeed really by the iconic Israeli artist.
“When I deal with works of art, I usually work with someone who is more on the artistic side of finding forgeries. I do signatures,” she says. “So we were three experts that worked on this painting. And we concluded that it was not Gutman’s painting. But while we were doing this, I went around the gallery with Gutman’s son, looking at the paintings. I looked at one very closely and said, ‘This is not his signature.’ The son started laughing and said, ‘This is my mother’s signature.’ There were some paintings that Gutman neglected to sign, and his wife signed them for him.”
Although forensic graphology now comprises most of her professional work, Harell continues to do one type of psychological graphology whenever asked.
“One aspect of psychological graphology that I find most fascinating is analyzing the handwriting of someone who has passed away, and the family wants to know about them. Right now I’m doing a report for a person whose father died when he was quite young.
And many people have told him many stores about his father. But it’s like a Rashomon story. Everybody remembers it differently. So he came to me with a pack of letters, and I told him about his father, just from the handwriting. Some of it he knew from other people’s stories, but some of it was new to him. We both had a very interesting and moving experience.”
Harell has also analyzed the handwriting of historical figures, ranging from Nazi Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to psychologist Carl Jung.
Harell sums up her own personality simply, in two words: “always curious.” 
For more information about Dvora Harell’s work, visit