Graphology and Employment Selection Essay

Graphology is the study of handwriting, particularly when it is being used to offer insight into the personality of the writer (Graphology; Spohn, 1997).

  Graphology  originated as studies of the relationship between handwriting and personality in the 17th and 18th centuries, then developed into a legitimate area of study with the founding of the Society of Graphology in Paris in 1871 (Greasley, 2000).  In the late 1960s, graphology started becoming an employee selection tool for many companies (Spohn).  Although the use of graphology as a tool for vital personnel decisions is widespread, is use remains controversial.Graphology acts as a personality test, similar in fashion to the Rorschach inkblot test, but in written form (Scanlon and Mauro, 1992).  By identifying handwriting characteristics that are common in a majority of a similar population, such as those suffering from depression or schizophrenia, graphologists have compiled a list of commonalities that allow them to make predictions about personality based on handwriting.  In other words, if 95 percent of people who are depressed share certain handwriting characteristics, it is safe to assume that anyone showing those characteristics is experiencing depression (Scanlon and Mauro).Graphology predictions fall into five main categories: physiological deductions, commonsense deductions, deductions using universal concepts, simple psychological interpretations, and scientific method deductions (Scanlon and Mauro, 1992). Physiological deductions involve the physical state or health of the writer, while psychological deductions involve the mental and emotional state of the writer.

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  Commonsense deductions include conclusions such as neat people have neat writing, while universal deductions use concepts like happy people write upward.  Deductions involving the scientific method are those that result from empirical research (Scanlon and Mauro).  For example, a study of convicted felons found a significant number do not line up the writing with the left margin (Scanlon and Mauro), indicating that criminals ignore the boundaries of society.Graphology and Employee SelectionEmployee selection tools are simply the tools, tests and techniques available to hiring employers.

In addition to applications and interviews, 77 percent of employers use other techniques (Crail, 2006) to help them hire individuals who are more likely to fit in with their company, thereby saving money by reducing employee turnover (Studer, 2006). Of those, most use work sample tests, in which applicants are given samples of the work they would perform on a daily basis, but others also use psychometric tests, which measure knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits (Crail).Among the psychometric tests used for employee selection is graphology.

  About 6,000 companies in the United States admit to using graphology for hiring decisions, including Honeywell, Inc., Ford, General Electric, H&R Block, Mutual of Omaha and Firestone (Spohn, 1997).  Even the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, admits to using handwriting analysis in employee selection (Spohn).  Studies indicate that over 80 percent of European countries, including five to ten percent of companies in the United Kingdom, use graphology as an employee selection tool (Greasley, 2000).Advantages and Benefits of GraphologyGraphologists believe that handwriting is a non-verbal behavior that expresses the personality and mental characteristics of the writer (King and Koehler, 2000).  Graphologists use a compiled database of over 100 handwriting features correlated to specific behavioral characteristics.  With this database, graphologists can often infer personality traits that applicants would otherwise keep hidden during the hiring process (King and Koehler).

  Scanlon and Mauro reveal one graphologist’s explanation for why graphology is effective at revealing personality:“…what does that tell you about where your handwriting originates? It’s from up here,” McNichol tapped her head knowingly, then ran her pen along a blank page, “and it comes out here” (1992).Another benefit of using graphology is that, unlike standardized tests, applicants cannot fake handwriting.  Handwriting typically follows a pattern of similar-sized letters slanted slightly to the right and occupying the correct percentage of the paper (Scanlon and Mauro).  Difference is slant, failure to observe margins, and wide gaps between words all have significant meanings to a graphologist.  If a writer attempts to fake their handwriting in order to create a different impression, it shows because the strokes are no longer fluid and spontaneous (McNichol, 2006).

Graphology is not only used to determine whether an applicant is suitable for a job, but also to deduct which employees will work well together.  Even management styles can be determined through handwriting samples, including whether an individual shows little leadership ability (Kurtz, Fleenor, Boone and Rider, 1989). Using this information correctly can lead to a more peaceful, productive work environment.Criticism of GraphologyDespite its rather widespread use, graphology regularly experiences a great deal of criticism on several points.  One of the first heavily criticized areas is the difference in interpretation between graphologists.

When multiple graphologists are asked to interpret the same sample, with no access to each other’s interpretations, there tends to be wide variety in their responses (Green, Rao and Armani, 1971).  This happens both when graphologists are provided with a list of characteristics that can be used for descriptions and when there are no restrictions on the characteristics they can name (Green, Rao and Armani).  In fact, graphologists often seem to display bias in their interpretations based on their own personality traits.There is also a difference in graphologist interpretations based on training and experience.

  Studies have shown that more experienced graphologists make correct interpretations more often, but even they are not always correct (Simner and Goffin, 2003).  In cases of handwriting samples that contain autobiographical material, there is also the question of whether the differences in interpretation between graphologists are actually based on their interpretations of content rather than characteristics (Simner and Goffin).One of the biggest criticisms of graphology is the validity, or lack thereof, of its use in personnel decisions.  Based on several studies, non-graphologists are as successful as graphologists at predicting personality through a handwriting sample, and this is particularly true if the non-graphologists are psychologists (Furnham, Chamorro-Premuzic, and Callahan, 2003; Simner and Goffin, 2003). Results of handwriting analysis also bear little resemblance to results from other commonly used employment selection tools, creating the potential for significant financial losses due to lower productivity and higher employee turnover than in hires from conventional selection tools (Simner and Goffin).

An extension of validity criticism is the feeling that graphology is based on intuition, rather than being based on sound empirical evidence.  When non-graphologists analyze handwriting in an attempt to find meaning, their individual semantic associations will create relationships between pen strokes and personality, even if there is evidence that those associations are incorrect (King and Koehler, 2000). The difference in intuitive responses to a handwriting sample are, therefore, influenced by the existing associations held by the analyst, which may explain a lack of correlation in graphologist interpretations (King and Koehler; Simner and Goffin, 2003).Legality of Graphology in Employee SelectionBecause criticisms of graphology, and lack of validating evidence, are far more abundant than validation, it is possible for there to be legal ramifications for employers who use graphology as an employee selection tool.

  In some states, like Oregon and Rhode Island, legislators have proposed bills to either outlaw use of graphology or to mandate its disclosure if used for pre-employment screening (Spohn, 1997).  The American Civil Liberties Union objects to the use of graphology as an employee selection tool because graphology is still a “pseudo-science” (Spohn).One of the legal issues of using graphology for employee selection is defamation.  Defamation is a statement, spoken or written, made to a third party that exposes a person to contempt or causes injury (Spohn, 1997).  Many people assume the graphologist would have “qualified privilege,” meaning they have special interest or obligation to speak to the employer; however, many courts will rule against qualified privilege because lack of validity in research means the graphologist does not have a basis for believing what they told the employer was completely true (Spohn). Applicants can also claim defamation on the grounds that the graphologist’s profile included information that did not pertain to the job.Job applicants can also take legal action based on invasion of privacy due to the use of a graphologist for employment screening.  Invasion of privacy can be argued if the analysis would be considered intrusive by a reasonable person, and many people feel graphology violates what is fair and proper (Spohn, 1997).

  While an employer can use the defense that consent was obtained prior to the analysis, there is a question of how voluntary that consent truly is.  For many applicants, the feeling is that they can either consent to handwriting analysis or not be considered for the job, which amounts to coercion on the part of the employer (Spohn).  Because graphology reveals personality characteristics that may have nothing to do with the job in question, it can be considered a violation of privacy, including a violation of state and federal information privacy acts (Spohn).ConclusionGraphology is a widely used employee selection tool in many countries, including the United States, despite the lack of evidence supporting its validity.  While it can be used to gain insight into the personality of an individual, there is a great deal of criticism as to how accurate that insight truly is.  Because of the lack of proof that graphology is an accurate predictor of job performance, and because of the private information that graphologists can ascertain, there are legal implications for any employer who chooses to use graphology for personnel decisions.  Until more research can be done, and validity and accuracy proven, graphology is best used in conjunction with other employee selection tools, if it is used at all.

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