Prepared by Henry S.R. Kao
University of Hong Kong
April 27, 2008
1. Graphonomics: A New Science of Handwriting
In the past quarter of a century, growing attention and interest in handwriting behaviour has been shared by experimental psychologists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientist as well as educationalist, letterform designers, and movement researchers, artificial intelligence engineers, and of late, the professionals in the cutting-edge field of cognitive neuroscience. In response to this call for concerted effort and furtherance of research and development of this broad interest and scholarly enthusiasm, the International Graphonomics Society (IGS) was established during the International Symposium on Neural and Motor Aspects of Handwriting, which was held at the Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong in July 1985. The mission of the IGS aimed at promoting the inter- and multi-disciplinary research and technology development of handwriting and other graphic skills.
The term graphonomics intends to convey the broad connotation of scientific effort concerned with the psycho-motor relationships that are involved in the generation, execution and analysis of the handwriting and drawing movements, and the resulting traces and forms of the writing and drawing instruments on conventional media such as paper and board, or on electronic equipment. The developments over the past decades have given rise to the human performance theories especially in actions and motor control areas, as well as sustained interest and research that have been conducted by the neurological, psycholinguistic and cognitive- neural scientists in recognizing handwriting and drawing as specific skills linking its roots and functions to the human brain. A third direction in the development of this field has seen the move toward increased application of computer systems and the methods of computational analysis of language processing as part of handwriting perception and motor production, much in line with the attention and importance attached to the act of reading and speech production. A still further aspect of graphonomic concerns is definitely the way we approach handwriting from an educational, development and remedial perspectives, such as learning disabilities, dyslexia and skills acquisition. Notwithstanding the fundamental issues alluded above, the final emphasis for graphonomic efforts has been explorations, development and implementation of various technologies that can assist the learning, practice, remediation and classification of handwritten specimens as well as more sophisticated measuring of motor control and movements that are associated with the act of handwriting and drawing. Much achievement has been reached in each of these areas of graphonomics concerns. The field is now fully established and functioning in research, application as well as technology advancement, although greater attention is emerging a re-orientation of toward psychological processes, physiological correlates as well as neuro-cognitive bases of brain pathology and its remedial and treatment implications associated with this basic human graphic skill of handwriting and drawing.
2. Calligraphy Therapy: An Evidence-Based Intervention
In parallel to the above line of development of graphonomics is a new field of academic and professional endeavor for the science and technology of handwriting largely based on Western language systems, another independent arena of scientific and educational investigation has taken on a cross-cultural and regional character and focus, i.e. the study and application of Chinese and Japanese orthographies with a view of uncovering and exploring research unlikely to be generated by studies only conducted in English, or alphabetical writing systems. This contrasting approach and scholarly focus has viewed handwriting from a much broader, holistic and multi-dimensional perspective by examining the graphonomic processes in several unique and cultural orientations.
First, the motor act of handwriting is not confined to the use of hard-tip instruments such as fountain, ball pens and pencils, but that involving soft writing instruments of brushes and marker pens. Secondly, psychological dimensions investigated by Asian researchers goes beyond the Western concentration on the nature and application of human movement and some associated cognitive-motor processes, but instead include major fundamental psychological dimensions of perception, cognitive, emotions, neural mechanisms, motor, the bodily changes involved in this act. Thirdly, we have studied also not only the states of the various dimensions, but also the potential effects of soft-tip handwriting, through the manifestation of calligraphy handwriting, on the handwriting practitioners as a consequence. Fourthly, we have successfully introduced the function of brushwriting to include the role played by the linguistic components of the stroke, shape, form and structure of the words and phrases as dynamic source of stimulation in its relationship to human cognition, intelligence, emotion, as well as psychosomatic changes. And finally, research along this Asian line of bush graphonomic acts has also seen the application of these findings from all these psychological orientation for the understanding, remediation, treatment and rehabilitation of a host of human behaviour, psychological, mental, cognitive and physiological disorders and illnesses. The work which started some 30 years ago has given rise a brand new field of research and clinical application that is not shared in the mainstream graphonomic studies during roughly the same period of time. This hard-earned development of this effort in the form of calligraphic behaviour is now encouraging the establishment, for the second time in the history of handwriting research, of a new academic discipline as well as a new health, therapeutic and rehabilitative profession, the calligraphy therapy.
Background on Calligraphy Therapy
This section presents an overview of the psychological research on the traditional Chinese art of calligraphy. The perspectives taken include perception, cognition, emotion, psychophysiology and motor control. On the basis of a theoretical framework, the research has investigated the nature of calligraphic brush handwriting as well as its treatment effects on a number of behavioural and clinical disorders. This new treatment system has also been successfully applied to users of other writing systems such as English, Korean and. Japanese. (Abstract)
Shufa or Chinese calligraphy is the writing of Chinese characters by hand through a soft-tipped brush and has been used historically as a means of communication. The study of Chinese calligraphy in the past has focused mainly on how to execute and appreciate it artistically by following the experiences of the great masters. In the last three decades, we have investigated the psychological processes of Chinese brush handwriting from several dimensions of psychology including perception, cognition, emotion, psychophysiology and motor control.
A host of experiments measured the writer’s physiological changes associated with the CCH practice. Common results indicate that the subjects experienced relaxation and emotional calmness throughout this writing act. Their respiration rate decelerated, heart rate slowed down, and blood pressure decreased and digital pulse volume increased with corresponding reduction in EMG. The heartrate can also differentiate different modes of handwriting control. Moreover, the practitioner’s EEG activities in the right hemisphere were found significantly greater than those in the left hemisphere during such writing.
For the post-task cognitive effects of the CCH, the subjects performed better in figure identification and form discrimination tasks. A second study showed a significant reaction time reduction in both hemispheres for subjects with calligraphy experience. A third study further disclosed that the right hemisphere reaction time reduction was more distinct for experienced calligraphers than the novices.
Further, a series of experiments has shown that the CCH practice improves the one’s abilities in visual attention, spatial ability, perceptual speed and accuracy, spatial relations, abstract reasoning, as well as in response facilitation, short-term memory and pictorial memory. In addition, preliminary post task ERP data disclosed a significant increase of cortical activation in the experimental subjects, but not in the controls.
Applied and Clinical Research
As for behavioural changes, children with Autism, Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD), and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have benefited from the CCH training. The improvements include the ADHD children’s attention and social communication as well as the autistic children’s negative behaviour and communication in the family or school.
Some CCH cognitive treatments have been conducted. In the case of mild retardation, the treatment resulted in increased visual attention, reasoning, judgement and cognitive speed and accuracy as well as hand steadiness and control precision. For the Alzheimer’s patients, the treatment improved their short-term memory, concentration, temporal and spatial orientation as well as motor co-ordination. The normal elderly also improved in their spatial ability and pictorial memory.
For psychosomatic diseases, we started with the patients having essential hypertension. After the CCH practice, their systolic and diastolic blood pressures showed a significant reduction. A related study reported a reduction of anxiety, an increase of alpha waves as well as a decrease of heartrate after the CCH training. Further, stress-related conditions of the Diabetes II patients and business executives exhibited a post-CCH reduction in states of anxiety and the moods.
Finally, we also examined the CCH treatment effects on mental and stroke patients. After a 3-month training schedule, the schizophrenic patients improved significantly in their positive hospital behaviours as well as their negative symptoms, while the control patients made no improvement. In a separate study with a 2-week CCH treatment protocol, the stroke patients made significant improvements in their palm strength and fine motor coordination.
Technology Development in Calligraphy Therapy
A calligraphy biofeedback system is invented and is being used by medical and healthcare institutions in Hong Kong and overseas. It is based on three decades of experimental and clinical studies using the Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean scripts, and has involved participants who are users of these languages. The present development is the first set of our professional calli-therapy technologies, which are patented internationally, have integrated tested biomedical instruments, therapy protocols and training materials. It has been developed for medical, healthcare and professional institutions as an effective treatment system for helping the huge populations of ordinary users and outpatients to enhance their health as well as the vast numbers of patients with a host of disorders and illnesses for their treatment and rehabilitation, both on a global scale. Intensive training on the application and skills involved in this system will be a core of the future development of calligraphy therapy as an effective treatment in the field of behavioural medicine.
Source: Kao, H.S.R (2006) Shufa: Chinese calligraphic handwriting for health and behavioural therapy, Int’l. J. of Psychology, 41(4), 282-286.)
Community & Global Needs
This specialized body of knowledge in calligraphy scholarship as well as its professional practice is rapidly expanding in scope and in content in the last 10 years. Concerted and focused attention by researcher and professionals as well have witnessed the growth and maturity of the discipline in the ever enlarging applications in medical clinics and hospitals, healthcare institutions, special schools, elderly homes, community and homecare services, and public health organizations. Schools and societies of calligraphy professionals are currently on the rise for training, education, research, and product developments in many corners of the eastern societies in recent years. The need for professional training as well as quality assurance of professional service delivery in calligraphy therapy seems increasing, and the time is opportune for an international body of professional practitioners to be instituted for the purpose of assuring the standards of practice, institutional certification as well as further promotion of research, education and training, and technical enhancement for this new field of graphonomics profession to the service of general public for health promotion, therapy, and rehabilitation of specific disorders and handicaps in the Chinese-language regions such as in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan as well as Chinese healthcare organizations in the States, Canada and South Korea as well as similar populations under other writing system.
Calli-Health Society (CHS)