Your handwriting might be giving the people who read it clues as to who you are.
Jennel Taing, a psychology honours student, has been studying the perception of handwriting under the supervision of Dr. Nicole Anderson, associate professor, and together they’re researching how possible it is to identify a person' gender by their handwriting.
MacEwan University is celebrating student research with an ongoing series of stories that look at subjects our students were investigating throughout 2019/20. Many students who were planning to present at the 2020 Student Research Day have submitted their papers, posters and presentations to the university’s research repository, RO@M.
Nicole had noticed that even though handwriting is a complex visual pattern in the same way that faces are complex visual patterns, handwriting receives very little attention in the research world of perceptual science.
“This is somewhat surprising because handwriting is an essential skill and is an important form of human communication,” says Jennel, who adds that she hasn't been able to find any other research investigating sensitivity to handwriting forms using more traditional psychophysical techniques. “Therefore, we are interested in investigating observers’ sensitivity to handwriting differences between authors.”
Title of work: "Perception of Handwriting"
What made you curious about this topic?
Jennel says she has always been fascinated with the subject of perception and how our brain processes complex visual information. A face is a complex visual pattern that contains an identity — "much in the same way that handwriting is a complex visual pattern that is individualistic to the writer."
She continues that studies have shown that the brain is able to process that the pattern of a human face consists of two eyes over a nose and a mouth. However, if this pattern is inverted, the brain is less likely to process that pattern as a face. "Therefore, we are curious to see whether the same concept applies to handwriting stimuli as well."
What did the research method look like?
Dr. Anderson and Jennel created a questionnaire that consists of handwriting stimuli from different authors of different genders (male and female) where they manipulated those handwriting samples to measure observers’ sensitivity to the gender of the authors of those handwritings.
"Our handwriting stimuli consist of uppercase and lowercase words in an upright position and an inverted position," she says. "We wanted to investigate whether any of those variables affect our participants’ ability to identify the gender of the presented handwriting."
Over the Spring/Summer term, participants will be placed in all four conditions (lowercase/upright, lowercase/inverted, uppercase/upright, and uppercase/inverted), and they will be asked to judge whether the author of the presented handwriting is a male or female.
What stage is your research at?
Jennel is currently in the process of collecting data, but she hopes that her research will show that observers of another person's handwriting will be able to determine gender from the sample reviewed.
People sometimes claim that “no one writes by hand anymore” — is there still a place for handwriting in our society?
"In recent years, modern technology has dramatically changed the way we communicate through writing," says Jennel. "More and more people are shifting from paper to electronic modes of communication. However, despite the increased use of computers for writing, the skill of handwriting remains important in everyday life. For instance, early handwriting experience can have significant effects on the ability of young children to recognize letters and other visual symbols. Recent studies have demonstrated that early handwriting practice affects visual symbol recognition as it results in the production of different visual forms that aid in symbol understanding. Handwriting serves as a link between visual processing and motor experience, which later aid in letter recognition skills."
Though Student Research Day was cancelled due to COVID-19, Jennel has been able to share her current honours research work on RO@M (Research Online at MacEwan).
"We are also currently collecting data during the Spring/Summer term," she says. "Once we have more data, we are hoping to present our work at various conferences to share our findings. "
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