Handwriting boosts brain connections and enhances learning, Norwegian study finds
Amidst digitalization, electronic devices are progressively replacing traditional methods of writing with pen and paper. As a consequence, there is decreasing emphasis on handwritten notes in the education sector. Several arguments support this shift - typing is faster, and computer literacy is a necessity in the current job market. Nonetheless, even as they briefly constrained handwriting, countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Italy are now reintroducing practices and rules for handwriting in schools. Unsurprisingly, scientific evidence supports the benefits of handwriting, and the latest research from Norway adds further weight to this stance.
Handwriting benefits brain functionality
A team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim undertook research to compare the engagement of neural networks in handwriting and typing. Prof. Audrey van der Meer, a neuropsychologist at the university and a co-author of the study published in "Frontiers in Psychology", explains that brain connection patterns are notably more intricate during handwriting than when typing. This increased brain activity plays a vital role in the formation of memory traces and encoding new information, which in turn boosts the learning process.
The team used electroencephalography (EEG) in a study involving 36 students. Participants were given words to write using a stylus on a touchscreen or to type using one finger on a keyboard. While they carried this out, a mesh cap fitted with 256 sensors recorded their brain activity. The findings revealed greater connectivity between different brain areas when participants were handwriting compared to typing.
According to Prof. van der Meer, "Our results imply that the visual and motor input acquired through precise hand movements during handwriting influences brain connection patterns positively, enhancing the learning process."
The researchers believe that these findings also apply when using regular pens and paper, even though the study utilized digital pens. Prof. van der Meer explains this conclusion by stating that handwriting involves careful letter formation and greater sensory involvement, thus promoting higher brain activity. Meanwhile, continually pressing a key using the same finger stimulates the brain less.
This research may also explain why children who learn to read and write using electronic devices might find it hard to differentiate letters like "b" and "d". Prof. van der Meer suggests that this happens because children do not physically experience writing mirror-image letters.
As per the Norwegian scientists, students should have ample opportunity to use pens and paper instead of just keyboards. Prof. van der Meer says that there is evidence to show that students learn more and remember better when they take handwritten notes during lectures. However, using keyboards can be more convenient for lengthy essays.
Past studies have suggested that handwriting fosters concentration, bolsters reading comprehension, stimulates creativity, and encourages clear thought and text structure. Psychotherapists argue that writing about stressful or traumatic events helps patients deal with negative emotions. Some immunologists even believe handwriting might bolster the immune system. Researchers have proven that writing to-do lists or resolutions by hand tends to be more effective than using digital tools. As such, experts recommend handwriting at least one page daily.