Handwriting Increases Brain Connectivity, Study Finds

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Handwriting Increases Brain Connectivity, Study Finds

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George Citroner

George Citroner

2/10/2024

Updated: 2/20/2024

Laptops and smartphones have virtually become appendages for students and working professionals. However, new research suggests we may want to take a break from all of that typing.
A recent study from Norway found that the old-school art of handwriting engages parts of the brain that tapping on a keyboard does not. The intricate movements involved in handwriting activate more regions of the brain associated with learning than typing does.

Handwriting Versus Typing

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology and led by Audrey van der Meer, a neuroscience researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, examined the differences between handwriting and typing. Ms. Van der Meer and her team analyzed the neural networks involved in both activities to uncover their respective effects on brain connectivity.
“We show that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard,” she said in a statement. “Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning.”
The researchers used high-density electroencephalograms (EEG) to collect data from 36 university students. Participants were prompted to either write or type words displayed on a screen.
Results showed that connectivity between different brain areas increased substantially when writing by hand. In contrast, typing did not produce a comparable boost in connectivity.
“Our main finding is that writing by hand is excellent brain stimulation for people of all ages,” Ms. Van der Meer told The Epoch Times. Writing on a touchscreen with a digital pen yielded more neural network activity than typing on a keyboard, she added.
“The more connections in the brain during a task, the more the brain is used to its full potential.”

Why Handwriting Remains Essential

The meticulous letter formation and precise movements of handwriting substantially boost the brain’s connectivity patterns involved in learning, according to Ms. Van der Meer. In contrast, the repetitive key-tapping of typing is less mentally stimulating.
She pointed out this likely explains why children taught to read and write on tablets often struggle to differentiate between mirror-image letters. The researchers recommend that young children receive at least some handwriting instruction.
“Forming letters by hand is a complex fine motor skill that challenges the young brain.”
Children first taught via tablets also tend to have worse spelling and letter recognition, likely because they lack the motor experience of handwriting each letter, Ms. Van der Meer said.
However, the researchers don’t advise abandoning tech. They suggest a balanced approach, using handwriting for lecture notes to optimize learning and using keyboards for extensive writing tasks. The findings underscore adapting teaching methods to take advantage of both traditional and digital writing tools.

Study Limitations

The research doesn’t paint a full picture, according to Dr. Juliann Paolicchi, a pediatric neurologist with Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital and Staten Island University Hospital, who wasn’t associated with the study.
The researchers used high-frequency EEGs to record brain activity. This EEG method has poor spatial resolution, limiting its ability to pinpoint specific brain region functions.
“For spatial brain function, a far more sophisticated analysis is found with PET imaging, which provides a direct picture of brain regions involved in a function,” Dr. Paolicchi said.
Second, the typing group used just one finger. Dr. Paolicchi said that touch typing properly with both hands is far different from “hunt and peck” typing with one or two fingers.
“When taking notes in a classroom, which is the model that the researchers were trying to recreate, touch typing is far more common with students than one-digit hunt and peck,” she noted.

Cursive Writing Returning to Schools

Cursive writing is making a comeback in many U.S. states after being dropped more than a decade ago. 
When the Common Core State Standards were introduced in 2010, they explicitly referenced learning keyboard skills in third grade through fifth. The standards require fourth graders to type a full page in one sitting. As a result, cursive was largely abandoned in most school districts.
However, this trend is now reversing, according to data from MyCursive.com, which tracks cursive writing requirements nationwide. Currently, 21 states mandate some form of handwriting education. Most recently, California passed a law in October 2023 making cursive handwriting mandatory from first through sixth grade.
George Citroner

George Citroner

Author

George Citroner reports on health and medicine, covering topics that include cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions. He was awarded the Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence (MORE) award in 2020 for a story on osteoporosis risk in men.

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