Using handwriting for forensic document examination
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Find out more about using handwriting for forensic document examination. From signature verification to identifying unique characteristics, our page delves into the fascinating world of using handwriting as a forensic tool.
Interview with Adam Brand
Now, Adam Brand is a handwriting expert called a Graphologist who's here to explain his area of expertise. Adam has a diploma from the British Institute of Graphologists and has done handwriting analysis for companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Warner Brothers and Ford.
Graphology is the analysis of the physical characteristics and patterns of handwriting, which can apparently show the psychological state of the writer or identify characteristics of their personalities.
Now, I don't really know what to ask you first about Graphology. I know - I think - that it works. What are the characteristics within handwriting that give you the clues? If that's a good question.
Well, the main thing is that handwriting is frozen body language. So what one's looking at is the movement, which tells you how I express myself. The layout, the spacing and so on, which tells me how I organise myself. The form, in other words, the letter, like the Ys and the Gs that most people concentrate on, which tells me how I present myself.
And then the stroke itself, the actual line of the ink, which tells a tremendous amount because if it's thin and light, it's a sensitive person. If it's thin and heavy, it's more rational, analytical. If it's wide and soft, it's a more sensual person. If it's wide and heavy, it's more aggressive and brutal. So you're putting together a total picture based on all these different movements.
How do you know that somebody is not, for example, just in an erratic mood or has been under pressure that day? And that's not their normal? You know, some people say I'm not myself today.
Absolutely. Therefore, ideally, you should get a range of samples so that you're looking at a shopping list or a formal letter. But actually, people's writing is very consistent.
The ratio of the middle zone, which are the Ms and the Ns compared with the upper zone or the lower zone, even when they're rushed, tends to be very similar. Even the spacing between words tends to be similar because that's an unconscious movement people aren't aware of. When you say to somebody, your words are very widely spaced, they say - Doesn't everybody write like that? And therefore it tends to be very much to the individual.
You talk about the ink and the pressure and so on and so forth. Doesn't the pen come into play or the pencil? Doesn't that make a big difference?
Absolutely. If you give people a range of instruments to pick up, it's very indicative. If somebody picks up a pencil, you can say, is this somebody who's not really committed?
They like to be in a position to take an eraser and get rid of it. You give somebody a Parker 51, which is like a knife. They feel they've got to attack that paper. You can feel the aggression. If you give them a fibre tip, it's big and black, so it gives them a tremendous impression of hard work, but actually they haven't done much.
So it's marvellous that you can actually see which colour and type of instrument they pick up because it's a guide.
How can this be used in industry? For example in interviews, career guidance and all of that? How is graphology or the analysis of handwriting used? And is it really good that one can make a decision based on handwriting? It wouldn't be on handwriting alone, I would imagine.
Absolutely not. I would never recommend anybody making a decision on handwriting alone. It's an additional input. So if you have an assessment centre or a psychometric test, it gives you aspects that might have been missed in an interview.
And the sort of jobs that I get asked are, has this person got sufficient drive? Are they prone to conflict? Are they defiant? Have they had temper? How do they react to criticism? What's their dominance like? What is their thinking process like? Do they have an honesty problem? Do they have an alcoholic problem? Do they have a health problem?
Can you tell if somebody has an alcohol problem?
You can see from the way that the ovals have filled up and the actual movement of the writing, that somebody could be that way inclined.
Or if they have criminal tendencies?
That's always difficult. You've got to have a lot of different movements before you can say that. I mean, if there's a propensity to dishonesty, it tends to come through in the writing.
I know from watching American cop shows and English cop shows that obviously you would at some point maybe be able to help the police
Yes - If you're doing a document examination and there's no exemplar to compare with, to say, is this a forgery or is it not? All you've got is writing. Then it can help the police in the sense of, look, if you're looking for this sort of person, this is the sort of personality you could possibly be looking for.
And I've had a situation like that. The actual writing style gives you an idea of when the person was taught. So you've got an age and you've got other feelings that come out. Now, obviously, it's not a scientific profile. But it's another indication that can be looked at.
That is fascinating. Can you determine the sex of the writer as well?
You can't. Everybody is male and female. Obviously. If I showed you writing, you'd say that looks more female than male. But everybody has male-female brains. That's another thing you need to know, by the way, you need to know whether the writer is male or female.
The reason for that is if you have very masculine writing in a female person, that tells you something about that woman. It's known as animus and anima. And if you have very feminine writing in a man's writing, that again tells you something.
What about looking back at one's ancestors? Can we track our style back to our grandfathers or our great-grandfathers? Is that relative in any way?
Yes, but you've got to know the copybook of the period. We do not write the way we were taught because our personality has an impact on that structure.
So some of it is inherited, basically?
Very true! Because in France, from a genealogical point of view, they are finding what they call ghost signs running through the generations. You are not therefore an individual. People are saying - Oh, you are so like Uncle Jim. And what they're saying in France is, look, you're a separate individual. Try and break out of that, be your own person.
Here's what we've done. We're not trying to catch you out. We're genuinely interested in this. I know people listening at home or in the car will be fascinated by it. We've got sample one and sample two handwriting.
We can tell you that number one is a man and number two is a woman. So we going to ask you to analyse the handwriting. So now let me just ask you this, Adam. How much handwriting do you need from somebody? And it has to be something specific, doesn't it? So tell us what you've got us to do here.
Well in terms of need. Obviously, as much writing as possible because as you work through the page, it becomes more unconscious and that's what one is looking for. The other thing I ask for is sentences rather than lists. And the reason for that is that one's looking at spacing.
Spacing is absolutely critical when one's looking at handwriting samples. The spacing of the width of the letter, the distance between the letter, the distance between the words and the distance between the lines. The margins up, left, right and lower. So it's very important. One doesn't have lists if one's going to really do a good analysis. So that's what I was asking for. The other thing I asked for is don't tell me anything personal.
Now, when I ask people to tell me how they get to their local shops, it's pretty neutral. They've got to think about it. They don't have to worry about their T's or whether they usually write like that. They just write out how they get to their shops. Now the reason for that is, if you ask them something personal, tell me about your future, then that tends to affect your report.
You've got to be neutral. So that was the reason for all those requirements.
Well, let's have a look at sample one. This is a male person. What can you tell me about this particular person? Should we start with personally or professionally? How do you do this thing?
The way you do it is you look at the dominance to see what is really hitting you, first of all. And that's all I'm going to concentrate on at the moment. Now, if you look at this sample, the dominance of this male person is very wide margins. Now, when you have wide margins, surprisingly, this is quite a private person. He wants to follow his own vision. He's quite independent. His writing is upright, so there's an element of self-control.
The other thing that's interesting about this writing, it is superbly fluent. Now, when you have lovely, fluent writing like this, it's somebody who's extremely bright. Now the key to this writing is the difference in length. Now what I mean by that is the top and bottom, which is known as the absolute size, is compared with the middle zone, which is the ends and the eyes.
And the difference in length here is wonderful. And that means this person really likes to respond to a challenge. They're seldom satisfied. They always feel they should have done more. So it is superb writing this sample. Now, the thing I would most worry about this writing is the fact that he is showing some tiredness. If you look at the have, at the end of the third line, it is falling. If you look at the and at the end of the fourth line, it is falling. So he is battling against tiredness.
I think I can tell you that he wrote it on Friday, so he may well have been tired. It's Ken Bruce, our mid-morning guy. And you're pretty spot on. Pretty spot-on with his personality.
I don't know him, but I'm glad that's true.
Let's go, if we may, to sample two!
The main thing about this writing is the rhythm is superb. It's lovely rhythmical writing. So here's an active, productive person. Lovely right slant. Now when you have a lovely right slant like this, I've measured it.
The initial response is the upstroke of a letter and that's 130 degrees, which means she's very sociable. She shows she cares. The down stroke, which is about expression, is slightly smaller. It's 104 degrees, which means here's a poised person. They know how to handle herself poised.
Now, the interesting thing here is that they are very spontaneous. Because the lines are very close together. Here's somebody who's very enthusiastic, and wants to do their best. It's lovely writing this, very legible. So a good communicator.
Now, you are always asked, where are the issues? Now, what is interesting about this person is the curved writing. So she complies. But there are some nice little lifts in the K. That is a nice bit of defiance. There's a bit of obstinacy here too. What you've got is somebody who complies, but actually, they go off and do their own thing anyhow.
This is somebody who does take her job seriously and takes it in fun and is all of the things you say. And unbeknown to you, she's called Sarah Cox. So that was very good, by the way. Again, you know, that was, as far as I know, Sarah. That was pretty good. Now, how can I if I wanted to become a handwriting expert, if I wanted to be a Graphologist, what would I do and how would I make a living?
The thing is that if you want to take it up, there's a website that tells you all about the institute which is britishgraphology.org. And that gives you all the courses that are available. Tells you what's involved. But in terms of making a living, mainly it's recruitment. A lot of people do it with children, a lot of work in schools because you can tell a lot about a child's potential from handwriting. I know they haven't got graphic maturity until they're 21, but it does help parents.
Thank you very much for your insight and thanks for taking part in the experiment. Adam Brand - Thank you.
Find out more about forensic handwriting analysis in London.