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Handwriting increases brain connectivity and promotes learning 

In an era where digital devices are increasingly replacing traditional pen and paper, a new study has brought to light the significant benefits of handwriting. 

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, led by Professor Audrey van der Meer, have discovered that writing by hand leads to higher brain connectivity compared to typing on a keyboard. 

The study highlights the importance of handwriting activities for learning and memory formation among students.

Focus of the study 

The researchers explored the neural networks activated during handwriting and typing. They used a high-density EEG technique, which involved placing a network of 256 sensors over the participants’ heads to measure brain activity. 

The study included 36 university students who were prompted to write or type a word that appeared on a screen. The writing was done using a digital pen on a touchscreen in cursive, and typing was performed with a single finger on a keyboard.

Enhanced brain connectivity 

“We show that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard,” said Professor van der Meer. “Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning.”

One of the key observations of the study was the increase in connectivity of different brain regions when participants wrote by hand, an effect not seen when typing. This suggests that the physical act of writing, involving precise hand movements and sensory experiences, plays a significant role in stimulating brain regions associated with learning. 

Making more use of the senses

“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,” said Professor van der Meer.

The researchers said that even though the participants used digital pens for handwriting, the results are expected to be the same when using a real pen on paper. 

“We have shown that the differences in brain activity are related to the careful forming of the letters when writing by hand while making more use of the senses,” explained Professor van der Meer. 

Learning to write

The research also highlighted the importance of the sensory and motor experience in learning to write. The experts noted that the simple movement of hitting a key with the same finger repeatedly is less stimulating for the brain. 

“This also explains why children who have learned to write and read on a tablet, can have difficulty differentiating between letters that are mirror images of each other, such as ‘b’ and ‘d,'” said Professor van der Meer. “They literally haven’t felt with their bodies what it feels like to produce those letters.”

Study implications 

The implications of these findings are significant for educational practices. The researchers advocate for a balance between traditional handwriting and the use of digital devices in classrooms. 

While acknowledging the practicality of typing for longer texts, the experts emphasize the cognitive benefits of handwriting, particularly for tasks like taking lecture notes. Many U.S. states have recognized this balance, reintroducing cursive writing training at the beginning of the year.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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