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  • Terry Elmaleh

"Writing is in fact one of the most permanent and unconscious of human habits" - Albert S. Osborn

A powerful justification for the veracity of handwriting analysis and forensic handwriting examination.

The Cambridge dictionary defines a habit as: something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.

How does handwriting become a habit? To explain handwriting from a physiological point of view it is interesting to note that it is an extremely complex motor task that we usually start learning at about the age of 3 or 4. What is needed for handwriting is the contraction and release of the tensor and flexor muscles which our motor systems control through movement and posture. When we learn a new skill like writing messages go to and from the muscles and brain via the nervous system giving feedback as to sequence, timing and force and as to what adjustments are needed to be made until a developed motor programme is formed. When the set of muscle commands can be carried out with the correct sequence and timing automatically without needing feedback any longer we have effectively learnt the skill – it has become stored motor knowledge and becomes the writer’s individual motor control programme – essentially a habit. This is one of the reasons to explain why it is so difficult to replicate the handwriting of others as the impersonator would need to understand the essence of the writer's motor control program and would then have to perform a motor control program that produces a very similar result.

As we become more and more proficient and skilled at imitating in our own way the forms, shapes and movements that we are taught as children, the more unaware we are of what we are creating and we start to write in an automatic, spontaneous manner. As we become increasingly graphically mature and skilled writers we cease to consciously think about how we are forming the letters, it is a habit – it just flows naturally and with extraordinary regularity. We have no idea of our own writing process and of how we form our letters. When analysing handwriting, variation in writing skill is as prevalent as it is for other human behaviours and writings will have greater and lesser extents of variations. It is highly unlikely that even the same individual will reproduce the same writing in exactly the same formations ever.

In the same way that we can recognise someone from the way they walk or talk, we can recognise a person from the habits seen in their writing. Forensic Handwriting Examination is based on the fact that we all write differently; in a unique manner and that there are significant features in any individual’s writing to identify him as that particular, unique writer with explicit writing habits. Put another way – each writer has an identity which is linked to his individual habits of movement.

As difficult as it is to flawlessly imitate a person’s posture, physical movements, facial expressions, speech and gestures, so is it as difficult to flawlessly copy a person’s handwriting. Handwriting is a behaviour pattern learnt over a lifetime and is considered to be one of the most permanent aspects of personality. The physiological habits of handwriting are developed by an individual gradually over a lifetime as learning takes place, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

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