Brain Function

Handwriting And Cognitive Function: Pen Over Keyboard

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Handwriting And Cognitive Function: Pen Over Keyboard about Brain Vitality Plus

Handwriting And Cognitive Function: Why Your Brain Prefers Your Pen To Your Keyboard

Do you pick up a pen just for writing a message on a birthday or Christmas card? These days many people don’t create handwritten letters-- especially young adults-- but instead rely on their electronic devices for every written communication.

But the latest research suggests there's a very unfortunate consequence of people choosing technology over the pen: A missed opportunity to exercise your brain.

New brain research reveals that writing by hand improves connectivity between different brain regions. And that’s crucial for sharpening cognitive skills such as learning and memory no matter what your age.

Key Takeaways

  • Writing by hand has a positive impact on cognitive function, especially in contrast to typing on digital devices. With digital devices increasingly replacing “old fashioned” cursive handwriting with a pen or pencil, there’s concern this might have negative consequences for the brain.

  • Studies suggest that writing by hand strengthens connections between different brain regions necessary for sharp cognitive function.

  • Researchers conclude that by choosing the pen over the keyboard you can create more "hooks" for memories and facilitate deeper learning.

Handwriting and The Brain

Studies are clear that handwriting has significant effects on functional brain development, particularly in the context of learning and memory.

When it comes to kids, research has shown that writing by hand helps children develop fine motor skills, learn more and remember better. Writing by hand also helps adult brains, but let's take a look at early brain development first.

Brain Development

The long-term effects of handwriting on cognitive development are significant. Several studies and research articles have found that experience with handwriting is crucial for setting up the neural system responsible for processing letters.

Handwriting also increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation, and activates large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, and working memory. For example, key findings from a number of studies in children include that handwriting training:

  • Supports Letter Processing and Reading Acquisition: Handwriting experience is important for the early recruitment of brain regions involved in letter processing, which is crucial for reading acquisition in young children. Children who print letters by hand show greater activation in the left fusiform gyrus during letter perception, which is a key area for reading in the brain.

  • Increases Visual-Motor Functional Connectivity: Handwriting experience influences visual-motor functional connectivity in preschool children, which is important for cognitive development.

  • Links Movement and the Brain to Boost Long-Term Memory: The recording of textual information by hand using kinesthetic tools assists in creating long-term memory. The feel, shape, and movement in the recreation of words on paper suggest a correlation between memory, capacity, and coordination of hand movement.

The researchers in many of the studies conclude that handwriting plays a vital role in brain development, learning, and memory. They also point to the importance of children being challenged to draw and write, especially at school. The use of pen and paper provides unique benefits for brain development and cognitive function, making it an essential skill to nurture alongside digital literacy.

That bears repeating: Children need to experience handwriting training for their cognitive development, yet many schools skip handwriting training altogether-- especially when it comes to cursive handwriting.

There are also researchers who believe that handwriting training can increase intelligence. There is, not surprisingly, considerable debate around the issues with some studies suggesting that handwriting skills are linked with intelligence, but others have inconclusive results.

Here's what we know...

Handwriting and Intelligence

A study conducted in 1971 on 103 college students aimed to find a correlation between handwriting, intelligence, and personality. The brain research shows that "clues about personality could be deduced from handwriting," and that six of 16 handwriting factors could be predicted by five of ten personality and intelligence factors.

Another study tested the hypotheses that a relationship exists between handwriting speed and IQ scores. The results of this study can provide insights into the possible relationship between handwriting speed and intelligence.

An article on MyCursive.com suggests that messy letters are a way to reveal handwriting intelligence and a high IQ, and that untidy handwriting can suggest above-average intelligence despite academic deficits in other areas. (We don't know about you, but some members of our team here at Green Valley have very messy handwriting and they're all smiles right now!)

Of course, some experts argue that while intelligence and handwriting may have a direct correlation, it's in reverse. In other words, some researchers believe that it may be your intelligence that influences your handwriting! For example, these researchers believe factors such as thinking speed, personality traits, and individual habits may influence your handwriting skills.

Handwriting and Learning Disabilities

There's also been a lot of research into handwriting and learning disabilities. The research has linked handwriting to dyslexia, as individuals with dyslexia commonly experience challenges with handwriting. According to the British Dyslexia Association, at least 20 percent of all children have poor or messy handwriting, and children with dyslexia often experience greater difficulties with handwriting, including letter direction, formation, spacing, spelling, and speed.

The International Dyslexia Association also emphasizes that impaired handwriting can interfere with learning to spell and write, which are common areas of challenge for anyone with dyslexia.

Additionally, the National Handwriting Association highlights that some pupils with dyslexia may find it challenging to achieve the speed of writing needed for success in the education system, and may benefit from using a computer for writing tasks, including using speech to text technology.

How Does Handwriting Help Memory?

Previous studies show handwriting leads to improved learning, understanding and recall not only in children, but also in students and middle-aged adults. Interestingly, some of this research found that using a digital pen to write on a screen has the same benefits. So, it’s not the instrument used that’s important but the need to make letter shapes with accurate hand movements.

That's because holding and guiding a pen involves sensory-motor information for the control of movement that’s picked up via the senses. This creates more pathways in the brain resulting in neural activity that governs all higher levels of cognitive processing, learning, and remembering.

This was demonstrated in three studies where students taking lecture notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. The cursive writers processed and reframed information in their own words whereas the laptop users tended to transcribe lectures verbatim, resulting in shallower processing which is detrimental to learning.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have carried out several studies looking at the importance of writing by hand. Their findings should encourage us to pick up a pen from time to time even if it’s only to write a shopping list.

More ‘Hooks’ To Hang Memories On

Their 2017 study involved twenty students aged between 21 and 25. They had to either type a word like "hedgehog" repetitively, type a description of the word, or draw a picture of a hedgehog using a digital pen on a laptop screen. While performing these tasks they were connected to an EEG to record brain activity.

The findings showed drawing by hand caused more brain activity and involved larger brain networks, with desynchronized brainwave activity in the theta/alpha range. This provides optimal conditions for learning, as opposed to those who type on a keyboard.

Another study published in 2020 involved twelve young adults and twelve children. It confirmed that choosing handwriting rather than a keyboard is best for learning and memory.

Senior author, Professor Audrey Van der Meer, explained, saying: "The use of pen and paper gives the brain more 'hooks' to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain.

“A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better."

Wider Brain Connectivity

In their latest study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in January, the researchers collected high density EEG data from 36 university students aged 18 to 29 who were repeatedly prompted to either write with a digital pen onto a touchscreen or type the word that appeared on a computer screen with their index finger.

The EEGs, which had 256 small sensors sewn in a net, were placed over the head of the participants, and recorded for five seconds for every prompt.

The results confirmed that handwriting, but not typing, increased connectivity of different brain regions.

“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,” Prof. Van der Meer said.

Although no studies have been carried out in older adults, it’s believed they’re also likely to benefit. So, if using a pen has become a rare event for you, why not start using it to write a daily ‘to do’ list, or that novel you never quite got around to writing.

Summary

There's a positive impact of handwriting on cognitive function, especially in contrast to typing on digital devices. Studies suggest that writing by hand strengthens connections between different brain regions, leading to improved memory, learning, and even processing of information. Key benefits of handwriting include enhanced memory, better brain connectivity, improved cognitive development and activation of brain regions associated with thinking, language, learning and working memory. The benefits of handwriting may extend to adults and older individuals, even if research hasn't explicitly focused on these groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is handwriting related to cognitive skills?

Writing by hand has been found to improve learning, memory retention, and brain activity, making it an essential tool in the development of cognitive skills in children and is believed to improve cognitive function in adults.

What are the psychological benefits of writing by hand?

The psychological benefits of writing by hand are numerous and have been supported by various studies and articles. Researchers have found that writing by hand can calm the brain, unlock creativity improve communication skills and personal expression of feelings and thoughts.

Is handwriting affected by dementia?

Handwriting can be affected by dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Research has shown that alterations in handwriting can be one of the early signs of AD. Studies have demonstrated that individuals with AD exhibit changes in kinematographic features of handwriting, such as slower and poorly automated execution of motor programs, as well as differences in writing pressure, velocity, and frequency of strokes. Additionally, handwriting analysis has been explored as a potential auxiliary screening method for AD, with research focusing on the use of handwriting characteristics to support the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases.

Aurora Vecchini, Livia Buratta & Leonardo Fogassi (2023) Grapho-motor imitation training in children with handwriting difficulties: A single-center pilot study, Cogent Education, 10:1.

James KH, Engelhardt L. The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends Neurosci Educ. 2012 Dec;1(1):32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001. PMID: 25541600; PMCID: PMC4274624. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25541600/

Frontiers News: Writing by hand may increase brain connectivity more than typing on a keyboard January 26, 2024 ttps://www.frontiersin.org/news/2024/01/26/writing-by-hand-increase-brain-connectivity-typing

Van der Weel FR, Van der Meer ALH Handwriting but not typewriting leads to widespread brain connectivity: a high-density EEG study with implications for the classroom Frontiers in Psychology, 2024 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1219945/full

Research News From NTNU and SINTEF 01.10.2020 https://norwegianscitechnews.com/2020/10/why-writing-by-hand-makes-kids-smarter/

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