Studies have proven that our handwriting can reveal when we are lying, provide personality clues, and identify early-stage health problems. Now researchers have found that handwriting also reveals mood.

“There’s a problem measuring emotions using objective indexes that are completely free of what the subject tells us,” explained doctorate student Clara Rispler, one of the authors of a new study at the University of Haifa. “An ability to identify the subject’s emotions easily and non-invasively could lead to a breakthrough in research and in emotional therapy.”

According to cognitive theory, when the brain performs several actions simultaneously, the secondary and automatic actions are impaired. Using this theory, Prof. Sarah Rosenblum of the University of Haifa’s department of occupational therapy developed a computerized system that can measure minute changes in handwriting, such as the space between the letters and the amount of pressure we apply when writing.

She used this system in the past to discover that changes in handwriting can reveal when we are lying – both orally and in writing – and can indicate early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Rispler, Prof. Gil Luria and Dr. Alon Kahane from the university’s human services department worked with Rosenblum on the latest study to examine whether changes in handwriting can identify moods.

The 62 study participants were divided randomly into three groups. Each group viewed a suitable movie to put the participants in different moods – positive, negative and neutral. They then were asked to use the computerized system to write a paragraph including all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

For participants in a negative mood, letters were significantly lower in height and narrower in width than in the case of people in a positive or neutral mood. Participants in a negative mood also wrote more quickly. According to the researchers, these changes in handwriting are likely caused by the negative mood creating a cognitive burden on the brain.

“The findings of the study may help therapists identify their patient’s actual mood, something that naturally is very significant for the therapeutic process,” Rosenblum concludes.

“No less importantly, we therapists can see whether our therapy is improving the patient’s feelings, or at least involving the patient in a meaningful process, for better or for worse. In the future, we will try to examine whether we can also measure the level of the mood, i.e. how happy or sad someone is.”