Identifying gender by handwriting — you're probably not as good at it as you think

Posted by Troy Mathew on Dec 6, 2013 9:11:13 PM

Although linking handwriting to psychology is considered pseudoscience, there’s some merit in predicting a person’s gender based on their scrawlings.

Whether this gender impression is formed by i’s dotted with hearts or a more subtle signifier, we at Survata were interested in gauging the public’s ability to successfully identify gender based on handwriting. To do so, we gathered five handwriting samples of each gender and presented them to 3,100 respondents using our consumer survey tool, asking if they think the handwriting belongs to a man or woman (see the footnotes for details on our methodology). Overall, we found that respondents correctly identified gender by handwriting 54% of the time.

That average is misleading, though, because it is watered down by a few samples to which responses were overwhelmingly wrong. Respondents were relatively decisive on six of the ten presented samples, with at least 60% of respondents guessing one way. This decisiveness was occasionally for the wrong option, however, as shown below (to test your own gender identification abilities, view the sample on the left before looking at the gender on the right):

Gender equality

The battle of the sexes was a draw when it comes to guessing handwriting; male and female respondents, at 54%, had a virtually equal success rate. But who is better at guessing a specific gender's writing? It seems like it takes one to know one. Men identified male handwriting successfully 64% of the time, whereas women correctly identified male handwriting writing 59% of the time. Likewise, women were more successful than men at identifying female handwriting by a margin of 49% to 45%.

The female handwriting images in our limited sample were more confounding than the male, as respondents had better luck guessing male samples by a score of 61% to 47%.  Of course, five samples per gender is not enough to generalize which gender's handwriting is more recognizable overall.

Our take

We were surprised that respondents weren't better at identifying the gender behind the writings, and that so many were wrong on several of the questions. The participants who submitted handwriting samples were blind to the purpose of the survey, and the samples therefore weren't intentionally misleading. Perhaps the average person simply isn't as good a judge as expected.

Is the public jumping to conclusions about your image? Try Survata today to find out.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We obtained handwriting samples from participants recruited on Craigslist.org. All handwriting samples were from participants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  2. We did not control for geographic location, age, ethnicity, SES status, or handedness (i.e., left or right). We do not know whether those variables affect gender recognition of a handwriting sample.
  3. We interviewed 3,100 online respondents from November 22 to November 26, 2013.
  4. You can download the underlying data here.
  5. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing here and here.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Miscellany