People learn more and remember better when writing by hand, research finds.
Multiple studies find that compared with using a keyboard, handwriting makes a more powerful impression on the mind.
Professor Audrey van der Meer, study co-author, said:
“When you write your shopping list or lecture notes by hand, you simply remember the content better afterwards.”
Despite this, handwriting is now being superceded by digital skills in many schools around the world.
Some schools in Norway and many in Finland no longer teach handwriting at all.
Others are likely to follow this trend.
Professor van der Meer said:
“Given the development of the last several years, we risk having one or more generations lose the ability to write by hand. Our research and that of others show that this would be a very unfortunate consequence.”
For the research, Professor van der Meer and colleagues measured the brain activity of students while they were typing and while using a keyboard.
The results clearly showed the brain is more active while writing by hand:
“The use of pen and paper gives the brain more ‘hooks’ to hang your memories on.
Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain.
A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing.
These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.”
Research from others labs has shown that people remember more when writing by hand than they do when using a keyboard.
Writing by hand also boosts people’s ability to absorb concepts over the long-term.
In other words, people understand more when they take notes by hand.
Professor van der Meer believes learning to write by hand is important:
“Learning to write by hand is a bit slower process, but it’s important for children to go through the tiring phase of learning to write by hand.
The intricate hand movements and the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways.
If you use a keyboard, you use the same movement for each letter.
Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses.
It’s important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible.
I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I’d take notes by hand during a lecture.”
Learning to write by hand is beneficial for the brain’s development, says Professor van der Meer:
“The brain has evolved over thousands of years.
It has evolved to be able to take action and navigate appropriate behavior.
In order for the brain to develop in the best possible way, we need to use it for what it’s best at.
We need to live an authentic life.
We have to use all our senses, be outside, experience all kinds of weather and meet other people.
If we don’t challenge our brain, it can’t reach its full potential.
And that can impact school performance,”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Askvik et al., 2020).