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Can Dishonesty Be Seen In Handwriting

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  • 24-05-2023

One use for graphology is considered to be the assessment of dishonesty. Research by Ursula Ave-Lallemant, Dafna Yalon and Michal Naftali has, however, shown that stress and illness may confuse the picture.

Listed below are some approaches proposed by well known authors: resultants, individual signs, ground rhythm, syndromes and the psychogram.


Jules Crepieux-Jamin (1885) wrote that the interplay of handwriting signs produced evaluated traits or resultants. Resultants allow graphologists to deduce character traits that cannot be ascertained directly, for example:

1. Additional Signs Of The Same Nature

For example, slow artificial writing can mean untruth and this can be reinforced by closed up writing, also possibly signifying untruth.

2. Derivation

This is when different qualities are united to give a new conclusion with a new name. For example, evasiveness and selfishness = tendency to steal.

Crepieux-Jamin considered characters ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ in their constitution/intellect/morality/will-power. 

This might mean, for example, that a ‘superior’ writer could be excused for telling white lies for the sake of politeness, whilst an ‘inferior’ writer might be taken to task for lying for personal gain.

Lists Of Signs

Robert Saudek (1928) studied the writing of 141 criminals. He concluded that a writing needed at least four movements from the following list before it could possibly be considered ‘dishonest’.

 Slow writing - wavering, bent strokes; diacritics (i.e. ‘t’ bars, ‘i’ dots), accurately placed;

 Left tendency - elaborate initial adjustments, and readjustments.

 Unnatural - school ‘copybook’ writing; left slanted; overly stylistic.

 Unstable - loose spineless writing, thready formations and wavy lines.

 Letters with cover strokes - (i.e. re-tracing).

 Zonal ratios ignored - in other words, ‘had’ could look like ‘nad’.

 Resting points - these are odd dots in the writing that can be caused by doubts.

 Frequent pen lifts - fragmented letters are a result of instinctive drives being held in check. 

 Important parts of letters missing - in fast writing this could just mean haste, but in slow writing it can be a sign of anxiety. Blended with other indicators it contributes to dishonesty.

 Initial emphasis is exaggerated - because of vanity in the writer. Again, this needs to be seen in combination with other features.

 Circled letters open at the base - Saudek considered this an important sign, but stated that in dishonest writing, this sign never appeared on its own.

 Letters written as other letters.

 Unnecessary retouching.

Max Pulver (1934) supported Saudek’s approach and focused on slow writing. With slow writing he considered it important to assess the following: artificiality, covering strokes, supporting strokes, arcades, spirals, retouching, resting dots, breaks and fragmentations, spelling mistakes, the omission of letters and open based circle letters. He added: threads, wavy base lines, ambiguous letters, neglect, ornamentations, left slants, slips of the pen, text/signature differences and exaggerations.  

Ground Rhythm

Rhoda Wieser (1938) was commissioned by the Criminal Institute in Vienna to investigate criminal disposition based on handwriting. She examined the writing of 800 subjects: 100 citizens, 100 policemen, 600 criminals.

She concluded that 95% of the ‘control’ group (i.e., citizens and police) showed good degrees of rhythm in their writing, while the criminals had ‘weak’ ground rhythm. (By ground rhythm she meant elasticity of the stroke.) She further concluded that the rhythm became weaker with the severity of the crime.

Wieser’s ‘strong basic rhythm with its elastic stroke’ was described by Felix Klein as a stroke that had the ‘flexibility of spaghetti cooked al dente’. Weak rhythm could either be slack (like ‘overcooked noodles’) or rigid (like ‘un-cooked pasta that seems strong but breaks easily’).

Wieser claimed it was at the extremes of slack and rigid rhythm where the trouble lay. A slack stroke was a sign of instability and lack of resistance. A rigid stroke was a sign of ruthlessness and inconsiderateness.

She concluded that by assessing the basic rhythm – strong or weak, and in which direction, slack or rigid – it was possible to deduce the temperament of the writer, their psychological strength, their motivation, the extent of self-discipline and their moral standards and restraints. Her work supported the lists generated by Saudek and Pulver.

Wieser stated that dishonesty is likely when a combination of several of the following elements are present: deliberate slowness, artificial and unnatural writing, counter strokes, cover strokes, exaggerated conformity to copy book models, exaggerated initial emphasis, extreme regularity, left tendency, and rolled strokes.


Bernard Wittlich (1951) considered there was no typical sign or group of signs sufficient to label a writer a liar. He suggested graphologists should look for motives before coming to a conclusion.   He developed four syndromes for describing motives:

1. Defensive

Here the person lies to protect himself, or to increase feelings of self worth through exaggeration.

2. Lack Of Self-Reliance

Here the lying is because of fear and inhibition.

3. Fantasy

Here a person may lie because they get carried away or because they just cannot tell the difference between truth and falsehood.

4. Lack Of Moral Rectitude

A person may lie to gain personal advantage, or just lie for pathological reasons without any wish for gain.

Wittlich saw the issue as a continuum from reticence, secretiveness, concealment, insincerity, misrepresentation through to lying and deceit. He found that certain movements appeared in all syndromes (counter strokes with their change in direction, slow writing with resting dots or soldered joints, and the interchange of letters) but suggested the following movements listed below should be assessed. (The numbers in brackets relate to the syndrome numbers listed above.)

Letter height increasing  (1,3,4) Intellectual inferiority?

Arcades (bridge structures)  (1,2) Lack of trust?

Left tending final arcades 2,4) Suspicious?

Supported strokes (1,4) Calculated friendliness?

Counter strokes  (1,2,3,4) Turning facts around to mislead?

Incorrectly Placed Diacritics (‘T’ bars, ‘i’ dots) (3,4) Intending to mislead?

Cover strokes  (1,2) Evasive? Inhibited?

Ink smears (2,4) Weakness?

Rolled strokes (1) Calculating?

Illegible corrections  (2,4) Repressed guilt feelings?

Artificial writing (1,4) Vanity? Misrepresentation?

Fragmented structures (2,4) Mental exhaustion? Egocentric?

Slowness, hesitation. (1,2,3,4) Timidity?

Soldered writing (1,2,3,4) Covering up mistakes?

Confusion of letters (1,2,3,4) Intending to confuse? (Dyslectic?)

Irregular connectedness between letters (2,4) Lack of mental discipline?

Irregular forms of connection (arcade, garlands,etc..) (1,4) Refusal to be pinned down?

Very thready slow writing (2,4) Intentional vagueness?

Missing letters (1,2,4) Avoiding truth? Haste?

Excessive embellishment (1,3) Vanity?

Neglect (1,4) Lacking a sense of responsibility?

The Psychogram

The psychogram, developed by Klara Roman and George Staempfli (1955) and modified (1964) by Daniel and Florence Anthony at the New School of Social Research in New York, is a circular chart with 40 separate elements for examination (e.g. middle zone height, garlands, narrowness, etc.).

Top of the psychogram: Aspects of intellect, aspirations, creativity

Left side: Repressions - Inhibitions, over control - Control

Right Side: Goal direction - ego strength - Orientation toward others and the world - Emotional release

Bottom of chart: Libido, energy, drives

Charlie Cole of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation suggested that potential dishonesty could be assessed from a writing sample using the psychogram by comparing the left and right ‘sides’ of the circular psychogram.

If a person is inhibited, the chart will focus on the ‘left’ side.  If the writer lacks controls, the chart will emphasis the ‘right’ side. The speed of the writing will differentiate between spontaneous and pre-meditated dishonesty.

Summary And Conclusion

Dishonesty in handwriting may not be as easy to assess as many of the above authors lead us to believe. For example, Betty Link in her tests, based on 32 criminal confessions, found only two of the signs described by Saudek/Pulver present on a consistent basis: ambiguous letters, and non improving amendments.

She stated that previous studies were based on criminals who had been caught, yet the best liars may not get caught and psychopathic liars may show nothing odd whatsoever in their handwriting.

She also considered the number of different signs less important than their weight. It seemed implausible to her that each item on the lists has the same impact. A person might well be an inveterate liar yet has only three of the dishonesty indicators, rather than the ‘statutory’ four as required by Saudek.

As for Wieser, it has been shown that ‘poor ground rhythm’ can be a sign of temporary distress and is not necessarily an inherent sign of dishonesty.

Ave-Lallemant focused on three movements to show how careful graphologists need to be when assessing dishonesty. With ‘amendments’, a possible sign of guilt or covering up, she found that they are also a sign of someone wishing to improve themselves.

With ‘cover strokes’, seen as a sign of deceit, she found they can also be a sign of fear, a need for reassurance. With the classic open bottomed circle, which has for years been seen as a clear sign of dishonesty, she found that such a movement can also be a typical sign of someone with learning difficulties. Care in analysis is, therefore, the key.

Jacqui Tew encouraged her students to heed the following points when assessing writing for dishonesty: Most movements have good and bad interpretations. One characteristic on its own means nothing (the graphologist needs to find at least 5 – 7 indicators). The graphologist must be careful to check the difference between dishonesty and ill health.

Slow writing is usually, however, a sign of calculation and so may be a sign of dishonesty. There is a correlation between writing pressure and the inclination to purposeful activity, so the extent of pressure and the type of pressure should be examined.  

An Example Of Proven Dishonesty

Lucille McLauchlan, a nurse jailed for 17 months in Saudi Arabia over the murder of a colleague, was found guilty of stealing from a patient on her return to Britain and of using forged references. A sample of her handwriting was printed in the ‘Independent’ newspaper and is reproduced below: 

The handwriting shows several ‘dishonesty’ signs described above:

1. Slow writing.

2. Wavy base line (the imaginary line under the middle zone letters: ‘m’ , ‘n’, vowels).

3. Left slant.

4. Signature different to text.

5. Illegibility: ‘Lucille’ in signature.

6. Ornamented rolled stroke: at the end of McLauchlan (line five).

7. Letters taking on the character of another: ‘v’ in ‘however’ looks like an ‘o’ in line two / ‘o’ in ‘Monday’ looks like a ‘u’ in line six (although this might be a spelling mistake).

8. Ovals open at the base: ‘a’ in ‘am’ line 3. ‘a’ in ‘Monday’ line six. 

9. Counter strokes: ‘o’s' in ‘do so’ line four.

10. Split letters: ‘d’ of ‘do’ line four.

11. Smeary writing: ‘e’ of ‘money’ line two / ‘e’ and ‘o’ of ‘enormous’ line three.

12. Important parts of letters missing: Base of the ‘l’ in ‘distasteful’  line three.

13. Resting dots: under ‘n’ of ‘22nd’ line six (this could be a smudge on the copy or possibly a split letter) and at the end of ‘r’ in ‘September’ line six.

14. Broad and flattened arcades in ‘am’ line three. 

 Crepieux-Jamin, Jules. - ‘The Psychology of the Movements of Handwriting’ (George Routledge and Sons, London, 1926).

 Saudek, Robert. - ‘Experiments in Handwriting’ (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1928).

 Pulver, Max.- ‘Symbolism of Handwriting’ (Scriptor Books, London, 1994)

 Roman, Klara. - ‘Encyclopedia of the Written Word’ (Frederick Ungar Publishing, New York, 1968). 

 Link, Betty. - ‘Advanced Graphology’ (Personnel Consultants & Publishers, Inc. Chicago, 1986). 

 Ave-Lallemant, Ursula. - ‘Ground Rhythm’  (Graphology , Vol 15, 16, 1991).

 Nezos, Renna. - ‘Advanced Graphology. Vol. 2’.  (Scriptor Books, London, 1993).

 Yalon, Dafna. - ‘And after all what is a lie?’  (Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium on Graphology, Oxford, 2002).

 Naftali, Michal. - ‘Integrity’ (Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium on Graphology, Oxford. 2002).