Handwriting Boosts Brain Connectivity and Learning

Summary: Handwriting, compared to typing, results in more complex brain connectivity patterns, enhancing learning and memory. This study used EEG data from 36 students to compare brain activity while writing by hand and typing.

Handwriting, whether in cursive on a touchscreen or traditional pen and paper, activated extensive brain regions, vital for memory and learning. These findings highlight the importance of balancing traditional handwriting instruction with digital literacy in educational settings.

Key Facts:

  1. Handwriting activates more complex brain connectivity than typing, beneficial for learning and memory.
  2. The study used high-density EEGs to measure brain activity, demonstrating the unique cognitive engagement of handwriting.
  3. The results advocate for maintaining handwriting instruction in schools alongside digital literacy.

Source: Frontiers

As digital devices progressively replace pen and paper, taking notes by hand is becoming increasingly uncommon in schools and universities. Using a keyboard is recommended because it’s often faster than writing by hand. However, the latter has been found to improve spelling accuracy and memory recall.

To find out if the process of forming letters by hand resulted in greater brain connectivity, researchers in Norway now investigated the underlying neural networks involved in both modes of writing.

Credit: Neuroscience News

“We show that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard,” said Prof Audrey van der Meer, a brain researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychology.

“Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning.”

The pen is mightier than the (key)board

The researchers collected EEG data from 36 university students who were repeatedly prompted to either write or type a word that appeared on a screen. When writing, they used a digital pen to write in cursive directly on a touchscreen. When typing they used a single finger to press keys on a keyboard.

High-density EEGs, which measure electrical activity in the brain using 256 small sensors sewn in a net and placed over the head, were recorded for five seconds for every prompt.

Connectivity of different brain regions increased when participants wrote by hand, but not when they typed.

“Our findings suggest that visual and movement information obtained through precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning,” van der Meer said.

Movement for memory

Although the participants used digital pens for handwriting, the researchers said that the results are expected to be the same when using a real pen on paper.

“We have shown that the differences in brain activity are related to the careful forming of the letters when writing by hand while making more use of the senses,” van der Meer explained.

This shows a woman writing.
For example, cursive writing training has been re-implemented in many US states at the beginning of the year. Credit: Neuroscience News

Since it is the movement of the fingers carried out when forming letters that promotes brain connectivity, writing in print is also expected to have similar benefits for learning as cursive writing.

On the contrary, the simple movement of hitting a key with the same finger repeatedly is less stimulating for the brain.

“This also explains why children who have learned to write and read on a tablet, can have difficulty differentiating between letters that are mirror images of each other, such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. They literally haven’t felt with their bodies what it feels like to produce those letters,” van der Meer said.

A balancing act

Their findings demonstrate the need to give students the opportunity to use pens, rather than having them type during class, the researchers said. Guidelines to ensure that students receive at least a minimum of handwriting instruction could be an adequate step. For example, cursive writing training has been re-implemented in many US states at the beginning of the year.

At the same time, it is also important to keep up with continuously developing technological advances, they cautioned. This includes awareness of what way of writing offers more advantages under which circumstances.

“There is some evidence that students learn more and remember better when taking handwritten lecture notes, while using a computer with a keyboard may be more practical when writing a long text or essay,” van der Meer concluded.

About this learning, memory, and brain connectivity research news

Author: Deborah Pirchner
Source: Frontiers
Contact: Deborah Pirchner – Frontiers
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: The findings will appear in Frontiers in Psychology

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  1. Yes, the impact of learning when writing by hand is indeed more than when typing on a keyboard. it is a known fact in hypnotherapy that writing is a direct connection with your subconscious mind. the hand is working based on the instructions coming from the subconscious. similarly, when you write in cursive hand it transmits the same to your subconscious mind. the slant of letters, connection of letters, slant of words, use of space on the page, size of the letters, etc. all play a role in your personality developed and or development. with handwriting, you can change your personality if you so desire. this is not possible with typing. that was the reason that during our school days, we were asked to write 100 pages of cursive writing during our summer vacation holidays.

  2. For me, it would be much easier to comment on this by handwriting instead of typing. I grew up learning by writing with my own hand. First only in capital letters with a stylus on a slate, then adding low-case letters with pencil on paper, and finally using a penholder with ink on paper, and the coronation was a fountain pen. This latter one I used even when taking notes of lectures at the university. I learned my mother tongue with ease, and so, other various languages, enjoying a good memory for spelling and grammar. Right now, I am teaching German to a Spanish-speaking friend and insist on having him learning through handwriting. I am also motivated for doing this by the fact that the State of California reintroduced handwriting in its curriculum.

  3. I have wondered for some time about the benefits of putting pen to paper. Yes, it enables a neater presentation to digitalize our thoughts, but to take away the skills of hand writing goes way too far. I totally agree that it is therapeutic to journal, write out one’s thoughts, messiness and all. Word processing programs have their place but they are also dumbing down the necessary processes of spelling, thinking and growing language skills.

  4. I believe this is true, although upsetting to me personally, as my dominant hand has been giving me a lot of trouble when I write extensively ~ whether it be journaling, letters to family & friends, or notes for myself. I am relegated to using the keyboard @those times. However, because of doing this, I find that my intuitive thoughts seem to blossom anyway. So, although this info has been presented to me by a few doctors, therapists, friends, I’m not sure it 100% applicable in all cases or people.

  5. True. Chinese emperor punishes their loved ones by ordering them to write out Buddhist’s scriptures by the thousands.
    Myself screenshot and copies Buddhist teaching’s Q&A from You Tube, then writes them into text books.
    It’s VERY effective in helping one to understand and digest better whence each word is being written down along.
    When coming to how brain and mind works it’s all pure complexities. Hand writing them out is the best remedy.
    Now towards more digitalizations AI and whatnots many will disagree. So be it just as the Dao (Tao) said let the nature flow. To the moon with rockets or via submarine into the deep ocean no matter how impatient one is Nature is the way. (Sir/Mdm please edit as you please but my full agreement to the effectiveness of hand writing STANDS). May all timely hit nature and quickly percept the true nature in us all so as to escape the untold long sufferings but short happiness in humanities 🙏🙏🙏.

  6. Typing means alternatively hitting keys with all your 10 fingers and not hitting a key with the same finger repeatedly. It would be extremely awkward to type with only one finger… such a study cannot convince me…

    1. The point is not about how effective or not to type with single finger only or 10 fingers, but about how brain’s neurons being actively activated when people do handwritings, leading to better learning and memorizing. Did you miss the point or what?

  7. An outdated certification,of sorts, but extremely beneficial as a teacher and also a school administrator: Handwriting Analyst. My certificate after two years of classes and exams is dated 1970. I used this study in helping many high school students and ,administratively, in the hiring of staff. Without disclosing my ‘skill’ in examining the ‘specimen’ (called back in the day) in addition to a resume and intuition, it was an extremely helpful tool used to help others and/or the hiring process.

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