What Does Your Signature Say About Your Personality?
Research finds that the way you sign your name could reflect your personality
Posted Dec 31, 2017
Does our handwriting say something about who we are? Graphology, as it is technically known, rests on the idea that a person’s handwriting style is unique and it reflects their individual personality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this area of study has been generally regarded as, well, sketchy. Indeed, there is scant — if any — scientific support for a predictive relationship between handwriting and personality traits.
That said, a recent study led by psychologist Alvaro Mailhos of the Universidad de la República in Uruguay has revealed a fascinating link between the size of handwritten signatures and certain personality traits. He and his team took note of a few studies that have veered away from the central tenets of graphology, instead looking at the relationship between specific characteristics of handwritten signatures and personality. The work has yielded rather intriguing results. Consider research that found that bigger signature sizes were associated with status and self-esteem. Similarly, another study found that signature size was associated with social dominance in women, but not in men. Related research found that women who embellished their signatures on a birthday card showed greater levels of narcissism compared to women who did not elaborate their signature in such ways — and yet again, this was not found to be the case for men.
Along similar lines, research has revealed that “normalized signature size,” that is, when the the signature area is divided by the number of characters, was correlated with narcissism in a sample of graduate business school students. Furthermore, the normalized signature area of CEOs was negatively correlated with firm performance (measured by return on assets), but positively correlated with CEO compensation. Relatedly, another study found that after participants were primed to feel positively, their signature size increased by comparison to the control group who was not exposed to the priming condition.
While these studies have produced fascinating results, Mailhos and his collaborators point out that they suffer from methodological weaknesses, including small samples and/or somewhat loose definitions of personality traits. Moreover, previous work has mostly employed a limited approach to signature size analysis, which ultimately restricted the sample to those signatures that were legible. As the authors note, only a mere fraction of signatures are readable, with one study finding it to be 44.2% in men and 70.4% in women.
In light of previous research looking at the relationship between signature size and the personality traits of social status, self-esteem, social and aggressive dominance, and narcissism, Mailhos and his team also set out to investigate the same. In addition, they wanted to further examine the relationship between signature size and intrasexual competition (i.e., when members of the same sex compete with each other for a potential mate.), since it is bound up with narcissism and self-enhancement.
The authors also took care to execute a stronger methodological approach than previous work. First, they used various and intricate measures of signature size. Second, they controlled for factors that could potentially confound the results, including number of characters in printed name (which indicates the length of an individual’s name), the average character area in the printed name (which was a way to measure overall writing size), and signature style (signatures based on monograms or initials vs extended signatures). Finally, on the basis of evidence indicating that signatures and printed names can differ in terms of how much feelings they can arouse in the person when writing them, the team also included analyses of both handwritten signatures and printed names.
What did the investigators find? Of the personality traits in question, two were statistically significant. In line with their expectations, signature size was associated with social dominance, such that the more socially dominant a person was, the bigger their signature size. Since social dominance is characterized by a positive attitude towards others, a central role in groups, a driving need to dominate, and ample self-esteem, the investigators reason that larger signatures could be a mode of expression by which an individual claims centrality or a central position within a group.
The researchers also found that bigger signatures were linked to higher levels of narcissism in women — but not in men. This finding was in keeping with the team’s expectations, and previous work finding that greater levels of narcissism were related to “signature embellishments” like exclamation points or underlinings for female participants only. This form of ornamentation remains consistent with the tendency women have to adorn themselves, like wearing jewelry or make up. Moreover, the authors contend that narcissism operates differently between the sexes. Typically, men convey narcissism through a lack of empathy, while women convey it through an extreme focus on physical appearance — and thus handwritten signatures may act as a similar expression of adornment.
While this research has limitations of its own, and more studies are warranted, it does lend support for the idea that there’s more to a signature than readily meets the eye.
Signature size signals sociable dominance and narcissism. Alvaro Mailhos, Abraham P. Buunk, and Álvaro Cabana. Journal of Research in Personality. Volume 65, December 2016, Pages 43-51