The pen is mightier than the keyboard for turbocharging your noggin

Brain research could help find the right mix between handwriting and new technologies, researchers claim

Scientists claim to have found evidence that handwriting promotes learning more than typing on keyboards.

A study involving 36 university students compared their electroencephalogram data while writing by hand with the same measures while typing. The differences in connectivity patterns in these brain areas, together with the frequencies, were shown to be crucial for memory formation and encoding new information, and are therefore "beneficial for learning," the study said.

Published in Frontiers in Psychology (paper linked) this week, the study claims that since traditional handwriting is gradually being replaced by digital devices, "it is essential to investigate the implications for the human brain."

"Using a keyboard is now often recommended for young children as it is less demanding and frustrating, allowing them to express themselves in written form earlier," the paper said. "Be that as it may, handwriting training has not only been found to improve spelling accuracy and better memory and recall but also to facilitate letter recognition and understanding."

To understand the different effects of handwriting and typing on university students, their electrical brain activity was recorded using an EEG with a 256-channel sensor array. Participants either wrote visually presented words by hand using a digital pen or typed them on a keyboard while wearing the EEG equipment.

"Focusing on brain connectivity that has been shown to facilitate learning and memory, we investigated parietal and central areas in specific frequency bands. These brain areas have been associated with attentional mechanisms and cognitive processes in visual perception," the study said.

The research team led by Audrey van der Meer, professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said the findings showed increased connectivity for handwriting over typewriting, suggesting that different underlying cognitive processes are involved in the two tasks.

"As increased connectivity in the brain was observed only when writing by hand and not when simply pressing keys on the keyboard, our findings can be taken as evidence that handwriting promotes learning. Interestingly, the increased connectivity between the various brain regions seems to be linked to the specific sensorimotor processes that are so typical in handwriting," the paper said.

The researchers argue that the study could be used to inform practice in schools.

"Although it is vital to maintain handwriting practice at school, it is also important to keep up with continuously developing technological advances. Therefore, both teachers and students should be aware of which practice has the best learning effect in what context, for example, when taking lecture notes or when writing an essay," they said. ®

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