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Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

How does Brown's handwriting compare with other PMs'?

The mother of a dead British soldier has called Gordon Brown's letter of condolence to her "disrespectful", partly because of his handwriting. But does his script, and those of other prime ministers, say anything about them?

The spelling mistakes in Gordon Brown's solemn letter to Jacqui Janes were not the only shortcoming, according to the bereaved mother.

In expressing his condolences for the death of Jamie Janes, who died in Afghanistan on 5 October, Mr Brown appeared to correct the soldier's first name, as well as rushing the communique.

"I saw he had scribbled out a mistake in Jamie's name," Ms Janes told the Sun newspaper. "The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly even read it and some of the words were half-finished. It's just disrespectful."

But what does Mr Brown's handwriting style, and those of other prime ministers, betray about their state of mind?

Some believe graphology - the study of handwriting - can help in the analysis of a person's character. Adam Brand, writing in Tuesday's Guardian, says Brown's script shows signs of "a compulsion and anxiety to get things right" while other elements reveal him to be someone who "likes to operate on his own".

Study of size, layout, slant, connectedness, speed, regularity, letter forms, angularity, and shading of handwriting
Popular as a recruitment selection tool in Germany and other continental European countries
Forensic graphology has some scientific and legal base
But relationships with objective measures of personality generally produce only weak and unstable correlations
Sources: Penguin Dictionary of Psychology; Oxford Dictionary of Psychology

But others dismiss graphology as a pseudoscience.

"There is no credible scientific evidence with it at all," says Richard Wiseman, a professor of public understanding of psychology. "Every controlled test has showed that no evidence has emerged."

While a person's handwriting might reflect they are in a hurry, he says, "there's nothing which compares it to their mood."

Graphologist Elaine Quigley, former head of the British Institute of Graphologists, disagrees. Here she gives her view of Mr Brown's style as well as those of Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher.


"His writing has changed from the usual way it's laid out - it's more spaced out, both between the words and between the lines. This suggests he is tense, given the difficulty of the subject.

The way the left margin moves towards the right shows how urgently he wants to get it finished
Elaine Quigley

"It is very jerky. The separate lines don't flow together and the ends of the words are abrupt, as if he's cut them off. Look at the Es, for instance.

"This absence of flow suggests he doesn't communicate naturally. He's living on his nerves when he goes beyond his own environment and his own space.

"The right-hand-side of the letters signify one's connections with other people and the future. The way they are cut off suggests he can't empathise because it's not part of his make-up.

"The lower section of the letters show how you feel. The As and Gs and Ys are all abrupt, so he's focusing on getting this task done. And the way the left margin moves towards the right shows how urgently he wants to get it finished.

"Dropping the Es on some words, like "condolences" and "colleagues" suggests he is expedient and he is sub-consciously abbreviating."


Tony Blair's 'to-do' list in 1997

"His words have an easy flow to them and this suggests he has a lot of charm and is very articulate. One word is even flowing into the next - "to court". He doesn't like routine or boredom, but style, fluidity and flexibility.

"The T-bar pointing down suggests he is stubborn.

"All the writing has a right slant which means that he gravitates towards people and he can charm them.

"It's also very mobile, which means that he will come up with the right thing at the right time.

"Look at the word "strong". A lot of people in jobs serving the public open their Gs to the right, as if they are opening their energy to the public sphere. Edward Heath had the same characteristic."


Margaret Thatcher's letter

"It's a masculine script, not prissy or emotional, but it is still elegant. Unlike Mr Brown's, her writing has charm and elegance.

"Underlining it is that she likes control. The vertical spacing means she is independent and doesn't like to be crowded by others. There is a general sense of confidence from the writing.

"She has a calmness about her and an assuredness about her. She can use charm and make people feel that she cares about them but it's implicit that they also know she won't let them manipulate her.

"The way the T-bar misses the T shows she chooses when to transmit information, it gives her flexibility. She will choose her moments. It's empowering."

Below is a selection of your comments

Graphology - analysing personality from handwriting - has no any scientific basis. This story is total nonsense, and it is utterly unacceptable for the BBC to publish this. A comprehensive review Should We Write Off Graphology? by Russell W Driver, M Ronald Buckley, Dwight D Frink, in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment found "the overwhelming results of well-controlled empirical studies have been that the technique has not demonstrated acceptable validity". If Quigley is such an expert, why doesn't she even pick up on Brown's poor eyesight?
Stuart Finlayson, Edinburgh, Scotland

This takes no account of the fact that Mr brown has had significant problems with his eyesight and this may have a very significant effect on his handwriting, invalidating a lot of the negative comments made about it.
Dr Tim Crook, Stratford Upon Avon

Judging personality from handwriting is a very dodgy science, but even using their findings about Gordon Brown's handwriting, how much more precious is a genuine, unedited letter of condolence from a man who is uncomfortable with charming people and displaying deep emotions than from someone controlled (like Margaret Thatcher) or charming and adaptable to the situation (like Tony Blair).
Helen, Bristol, UK

What does Gordon Brown's handwriting tell us about him? Nothing except for the fact he has messy handwriting. The end.
SM, Glasgow

The claim that graphology can tell anything about the subject's state of mind of psychology is not supported by the available evidence. I do not think pseudoscience should be supported on these pages even if by means of omission, as in neglecting to mention the fact that according to the vast body of available studies and according to mainstream scientific thinking it is not possible for anyone to discern details as lengthily described by Elaine Quigley.
Balint Szabo, Budapest, Hungary

Why don't you also ask an astrologer for their opinion on former prime ministers? Or perhaps a palm-reader could tell you that Brown is tense, Blair was charming and Thatcher liked control, based on their thumb length. Or maybe phrenology or tarot cards could tell you the same thing. Don't give our licence fees to charlatans like this, send them to daytime cable TV where they belong.
Jon Taylor, London

Oh come on. Graphology? Pullleeeeze. Complete quackery.
Bruce, St Andrews

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