Writing by hand involves greater brain connectivity than typing on a keyboard, so it is necessary to expose students to more activities that involve handwriting. This was revealed by a study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Writing by hand at school is increasingly rare
As digital devices gradually replace pen and paper, taking notes by hand is becoming increasingly rare in schools and universities. The use of the keyboard is favored because it is faster than handwriting. However, the latter has been found to improve spelling accuracy and memory recall.
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Handwriting stimulates brain connectivity
To find out whether the process of forming letters by hand involves increased brain connectivity, Norwegian researchers studied the underlying neural networks involved in both writing modalities. “We have shown that when you write by hand, your brain connectivity patterns are much more elaborate than when you type on a keyboard,” he said Audrey van der Meera brain researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study.
“This widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and the encoding of new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning,” van der Meer continued. The researchers collected EEG data from 36 college students who were repeatedly asked to write or type a word that appeared on a screen. When they wrote, they used a digital pen to write in cursive directly on a touchscreen.
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They used only one finger when pressing the keys. High-density EEGs, which measure the brain’s electrical activity using 256 small sensors sewn into a mesh and placed on the head, were recorded for five seconds for each request. Connectivity of several brain regions increased when participants wrote by hand, but not when they used the keyboard.
“Our findings suggest that visual and movement information, obtained through precisely controlled hand movements in using a pen, contribute largely to the brain connectivity patterns that promote learning,” van der Meer emphasized.
The secret? Attention in the formation of letters
Although the participants used digital pens to write by hand, according to the researchers, the results should be the same when using a real pen on paper. “We have shown that differences in brain activity are related to the careful formation of letters when writing by hand, making greater use of the senses,” explained van der Meer. Since it is the movement of the fingers during letter formation that promotes brain connectivity, handwriting is expected to have similar benefits to cursive writing on learning. In contrast, the simple motion of repeatedly pressing a key with the same finger is less stimulating for the brain.
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“This also explains why children who have learned to write and read on a tablet may have difficulty distinguishing between letters that are mirror images of each other, such as ‘b’ and ‘d’: they have literally not tried with their body what it feels like to produce those letters,” van der Meer explained. “The results – declared the authors – demonstrate the need to give students the opportunity to use pens, rather than having them type during lessons”.
Guidelines to ensure that students receive at least minimal instruction in handwriting might be an appropriate step. For example, many areas of the United States reintroduced cursive writing education at the beginning of the year. At the same time, it is important to keep abreast of ever-developing technological advances. This includes knowing which way of writing offers the most benefits in which circumstances. “It is proven that students learn more and remember better when taking handwritten notes, while using a computer with keyboard can be more practical when writing a text or a long essay,” concluded van der Meer.
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