Handwriting responsible for enhancing memory connections, scientists report

By Jurassic JennJul 11, 2024 17:43 PMScience
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Handwriting
Handwriting. Source: https://hub.jhu.edu/

Handwriting has been found to enhance connections in the brain that support memory function. Despite seeming slow and potentially dull, writing things out by hand can facilitate stronger links between different regions of the brain, including those involved in learning and memory. This discovery adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of handwriting.

In a study involving college students, researchers observed the brain activity of participants while they either handwrote or typed words. When students used a pen to write, more brain regions exhibited synchronized activity compared to typing. This synchronization was also apparent in brainwaves, patterns of electrical activity associated with memory formation. These findings suggest that taking notes by hand may enhance memory retention, particularly when reviewing material for exams. This is prepared by SSP.

Previous research has already shown that handwriting improves both spelling and the ability to remember information. It also enhances conceptual understanding. Scientists believe that the deliberate process of forming letters and words by hand allows more time for information processing and learning.

This latest study sheds further light on why handwriting is beneficial for memory. Ramesh Balasubramaniam, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Merced, explains that there is a fundamental difference in brain organization between handwriting and typing. The researchers behind the study, psychologists Audrey van der Meer and Ruud van der Weel from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, recruited college students for their investigation. The students were shown a word on a computer screen and then asked to either type or write it in cursive using a digital pen. Sensors in the caps they wore recorded the electrical activity in their brains.

The scientists focused on the frequency of brainwaves, which indicates how many times the waves pulsed per second. By looking for synchronized brainwaves, they were able to identify interconnected brain regions engaged in a particular task. Handwriting not only resulted in increased brain activity in areas related to movement but also boosted specific brainwaves associated with learning and memory. These findings hint at unique connections that are formed during handwriting, which differ from those formed during typing.

The study's results were shared in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on January 26.

Balasubramaniam notes that even when the movements are similar, the brain exhibits significantly higher activity during handwriting compared to typing. This heightened involvement of brain regions during handwriting could aid the learning process, especially as certain boosted brainwaves play a role in memory formation and retention.

However, the researchers did not test whether students remembered the words they wrote or typed, so the implications of increased brain activity for learning remain uncertain. According to Kathleen Arnold, a psychologist from Radford University, more research is needed to understand the differences in brain connections and their correlation with learning outcomes.

Differences in brain activity may be influenced by the distinct movements required for typing versus writing. Balasubramaniam acknowledges the need for further investigation but asserts that these initial results highlight the differing brain-activation patterns associated with these two activities.

Considering the advantages of handwriting for memory, it is essential for students and teachers to determine whether to write or type based on the specific task at hand. For instance, handwriting notes may aid in information retention, while typing an essay could facilitate greater speed in translating ideas to the page before they are forgotten.

Though more research is required to identify the optimal learning strategies, the value of handwriting has been evident. Therefore, it should not be overlooked in the digital age. Balasubramaniam emphasizes the need for schools to incorporate writing more extensively into the curriculum. In fact, some regions have even introduced laws, such as California's requirement for students to learn cursive handwriting from first to sixth grade.

Van der Meer shares the sentiment that handwriting should continue to be valued, stating that writing is essential to young brains. She compares a generation without handwriting to guinea pigs involved in an experiment to understand its impact on brain development. Additionally, losing the ability to write by hand would diminish part of the human experience, as writing is crucial for tasks like composing grocery lists or love letters.

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