When you look around for a sheet of paper or ask for a pen or pencil, do you ever feel a little guilty that you aren’t typing on a keypad instead, on your phone or computer? In our increasingly 100% device-on culture, maybe you feel a little old-fashioned. Besides, paper is not sustainable; why not just type into your phone?
Schools and businesses have embraced the all digital culture as well. Digital makes more sense for businesses where documents are shared, and college students commonly use their notebook or iPad for class notes. Handwriting skills for children are being deemphasized, as the all-digital culture races forward.
Apparently we are all gaining in efficiency, but some very recent brain research is showing that we are losing out in other ways that we probably don’t suspect.
New functional MRI studies are concluding that when we physically write out words on paper, that we are stimulating our brains much more than when we type on a keypad. And this is a good thing; not only are we stimulating more brain areas, but since physical writing is more challenging than typing, it also helps promote better memory and learning of what words we are entering.
You can think of it in terms of exercise. You can take the elevator to go up a flight of stairs or walk. The elevator is clearly more modern, easier, more efficient, but if you actually make the effort to move your legs upstairs, your body will be just a little bit stronger. The same thing happens when you use the keyboard. For brain purposes, when you use a keypad, you are taking the easy way out, the lazier way, and not exercising the brain circuits that you do when you handwrite.
When you use your hand to write or print words, your brain (unconsciously) calculates the space needed for your letters, how to move your hand, and all those details that make your writing look neat or messy. When you type, either you push one button or another button. The creativity, the brain effort, is much less.
Psychologists from Princeton University (New Jersey) and the University of California, Los Angeles published research this year in Psychological Science, showing that, in both laboratory and real-world classroom situations, college students who took notes on laptops did not learn the material as well as students who took notes by hand. Students who typed tended to write down the exact words the professor was saying, whereas students who wrote longhand were more likely to process and reframe the concepts into their own words, exercising their brain and memory circuits more.
A study of young children that compared the keyboard vs. longhand writing showed that the children who wrote by hand produced words and ideas more quickly, and further, the children who had better handwriting skills, had better brain activation in the areas of the brain related to reading and writing.
So: keyboard or handwriting? If you want to exercise your brain better, and even develop better ideas, don’t give up paper and pencil just yet.
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