A new study suggests that handwriting can improve connectivity between brain regions, some of which are implicated in learning and memory. While writing down the same word over and over again in cursive may bring back unpleasant memories for some people, handwriting can also boost connectivity across these regions.
When prompted to handwrite sentences, college students demonstrated enhanced connectivity across the brain, notably in brain waves related to memory formation, in comparison to when they typed those words instead, according to a work that was published on January 26 in Frontiers in Psychology. The discovery contributes to the expanding body of data that handwriting has positive effects and has the potential to provide support for laws that implement handwriting curricula, such as the California law that was just recently passed that mandates the teaching of cursive in grades 1 through 6.
The findings of the new study indicate that “there is a fundamental difference in brain organisation for handwriting as opposed to typing,” according to Ramesh Balasubramaniam, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Merced, who was not involved in the study.
Writing by hand has been demonstrated to increase spelling accuracy, memory recall, and conceptual understanding in a significant number of studies that have been conducted beforehand. Researchers in the field of science believe that the lengthy process of tracing out letters and words provides individuals with additional time to process the information and study it.
Audrey van der Meer and Ruud van der Weel, both of whom are psychologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, recruited students from the university and attached electrodes to their heads for the purpose of the current study. A word that was displayed on a computer screen was made available to the students, and they were instructed to either type it out or handwrite it in cursive using a digital pen. The participants’ electrical brain activity was captured by sensors that were embedded in a cap while they were performing each task.
After then, the researchers looked for coherence, which is a phenomenon that occurs when two different regions of the brain are active at the same moment with the same frequency of electrical signals. This measure has the ability to reflect the degree of functional connection that exists between various regions scattered across the brain.
In the process of scribbling, the researchers saw an increase in activity, particularly in low-frequency bands known as alpha and theta. This activity was observed not only in the motor regions that were anticipated to be affected by the movement but also in other regions that are involved with learning. It has been demonstrated in the past that these low-frequency bands are beneficial to memory functions. When the researchers examined the two tasks, they found that handwriting enhanced the connectivity between parietal brain regions, which are engaged in sensory and motor processing, and central brain regions, many of which are involved in memory. However, typing did not boost the connectivity between these two regions. Based on these data, it appears that different processes of brain activity are taking place in the brain while a person is typing or writing.
According to Balasubramaniam, “even when the movements are very similar, the activation seems to be much, much higher in handwriting.” “This demonstrates that there is a greater involvement of these brain regions when you are writing by hand, which may provide you with some particular advantages and benefits.”
Due to the fact that these specific waves between these regions are involved in the process of memory creation and encoding, the researchers hypothesise that this increase in stimulation makes learning easier.
According to Kathleen Arnold, a psychologist at Radford University in Virginia, it is not yet obvious how exactly the increased activity influences learning. This is due to the fact that the researchers did not evaluate whether the subjects remembered the phrases. “[The study] should be followed up on in order to determine what exactly is causing those connectivity differences and whether or not they reflect learning outcomes.”
Balasubramaniam further mentions that it is likely that the differences in brain activation are simply attributable to the fact that typing and writing involve a different movement than other activities. “However, having said that, we have to begin somewhere, and these are the first results to actually show that these two things have different patterns of brain activation,” the researcher stated.
Typing is typically simpler, quicker, and more practical than handwriting, despite the fact that handwriting may be helpful in the learning process. According to van der Meer, it is therefore important for not only students but also teachers to take into consideration the work at hand while deciding whether to type or handwrite. Taking notes by hand, for instance, may be more effective in terms of retaining information, although typing up an essay may be more convenient.
Experts believe that handwriting should not be neglected in this day and age of digital technology, despite the fact that additional research is required to find the most effective method of learning. It is necessary for [schools] to incorporate more writing into the process of curriculum building, according to Balasubramaniam.
Vander Meer is in agreement. “Because [writing] is so beneficial for [young] brains, we shouldn’t use [this generation] as guinea pigs to see how their brains end up without any handwriting,” she argues. “[Writing] is important for [young] brains.” Not only that, but it is essential for them to be able to compose at least a love letter or a list of things they need to buy. When it comes to us humans, I believe that to be of utmost significance.