Does Bad Handwriting show Low Intelligence?
I have written quite a bit about the connection between bad handwriting and low intelligence. But I still get questions about it that keep cropping up.
So this time I would like to address a specific area that was prompted by a rather interesting question:
I really like your article Is Messy Handwriting a Sign of Intelligence? But as a science writer I was wondering if there is some sound research done in this area. In other words, could you ‘prove’ your statement that a messy or illegible handwriting is not correlated with intelligence?
What about the study of Debra McCarney and colleagues (2013)? They found correlations between poor handwriting, lower cognitive and literacy scores, and a longer duration for handwriting tasks.
In other words, the study found that poor handwriting was associated with lower intelligence.
The problem here is that there are different kinds of bad handwriting. Some show high intelligence and others show low intelligence. A graphologist would be able to tell the difference. But clearly you can’t lump them all together and put them in the same category.
Freud and Picasso had particularly bad handwriting but their handwriting cannot be compared with undeveloped handwriting that is on a completely different level.
At the outset, it has to be said that a complex area such as intelligence in handwriting must be dealt with carefully.
You see messy handwriting and bad handwriting are two different things. And there are many degrees in-between.
There is certainly a correlation between some types of sloppy handwriting and lower cognitive scores. Messy handwriting is often associated with low cognitive skills and it also points to a lot of baggage.
So it’s important to recognize that there are different types of bad handwriting. Not only do we find many examples of poor handwriting and low intelligence ; we also find poor handwriting and high intelligence
For example many doctors write badly even though they may be highly intelligent. Sometimes the words on their prescriptions have to be guessed at rather than read.
In fact, illegibility is one of the hallmarks of doctors’ handwriting and indeed of many other intelligent individuals too.
In general, we can accept that the more people write, the more they develop their own particular ways of writing.
For example, university students, use abbreviations and shortcuts in their notes. When you use a shortcut in handwriting, not only do you abbreviate words or letters but you also tend to take the shortest distance between two points.
For instance an “f” can lose its loops and become a straight line. The ending of a word such as “ing” becomes a squiggle.
This facilitates speedy handwriting and is one of the signs of intelligence.
People who uses these adaptations feel sufficiently confident and comfortable with the conventional rules of handwriting to set them aside in favour of a more cultivated and sophisticated style of writing.
It implies a form of intellectual sophistication that is commensurate with intelligence.
But clearly, these deviations and shortcuts can by no stretch of the imagination be described as good handwriting. In fact, they could with more accuracy be described as poor handwriting.
But – and this is the point – even though these deviations from conventional handwriting can be classed as poor handwriting, they are in fact signs of original and intelligent thinking.
Which is exactly why it would be inaccurate to say that bad handwriting is a sign of low intelligence. There are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration first.
So you see it’s rather complicated and we need to understand a lot more about the personality of the writer as a whole before coming to negative and often inaccurate conclusions about their intelligence.
For further details and some handwriting samples to illustrate this point, read
Messy handwriting and Intelligence