Learning & Development Neuroscience

Simple Neuroscience: Why writing by hand promotes better and faster learning?

Neuroscience of handwriting

After I wrote the article about the Neuroscience of Journaling, a number of readers told me how they resonated with the benefits and functions of journaling, but also with the ideas brought by neuroscience with regard to the benefits of writing by hand and all the processes involved.

This is why I decided to look a bit deeper into this whole idea of the benefits of writing by hand. There are plenty of studies approaching the benefits of handwriting, and many of them focus on the fact that it improves memory and promotes better and faster learning.

So, let me go a bit deeper into this and present to you a summary of what I’ve found.

Main findings:

  • There is quite a complex process behind the hand writing, which involves specific motor skills that we are only making use of while writing by hand. Furthermore, it looks like ‘those who write on paper, exhibit more brain activity on recalling the information in those areas of the brain that are associated with language, imaginary visualization, memory and navigation’[i].
  • The activation of the hippocampus (which is known to be important for memory and navigation), shows that writing by hand contains more spatial details that can be remembered and navigated in the mind’s eye. Neuroscientists from the Tokyo university concluded that: ‘Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin’[ii].
  • What we can do to support us in memorizing better information from digital document is to highlight, underline, circle, draw arrows, make color-coded handwritten notes on the sides, add virtual sticky-notes, etc. – which, in fact, are mark-ups that imitate the analog-style special enrichment that we benefit from when we write by hand and that helps us with improving our memory.
  • There are many areas of our brain that get activated while writing, and this helps us to process information easier, to make connections and get new insights, strengthens our memory, etc.
  • Writing by hand, because it’s a lot slower than our capacity to think, forces us to be present in the moment, to stay with our thoughts – which is also conducive to a better capacity to remember what we write about. In a way, it stops a bit the ‘monkey mind’ and helps us be mindful. And, the more senses we involve, the more chances that we’ll remember what we are writing, as there is more information that can trigger memory.
  • That is to say, from a sensory point of view, many of our senses are involved: touching (we touch the pen, the paper), seeing (we see the notebook, the pen, our writing), smelling (the smell of paper from the notebook, ink or paste from our pen), hearing (especially if we write with a pencil). So, our brain is a lot more active when we write by hand (than when we write on a keyboard/phone/tablet). Meaning, it is more focused, helps us make connections easier, remember things better, process information better. Or, as neuroscience researcher Audrey van der Meer from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) says: “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 sensory experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.”[iii]
  • The University of Tokyo study mentioned earlier[iv], reached the conclusion that: ‘Paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall. […]Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize’.

I hope you enjoyed this journey into the neuroscience of writing by hand and why we learn and remember better when we write by hand. Phew! Now I have a good excuse for my love for notebooks and the big pile of them I have in my drawers. The good part is… I actually use them 😊.

Thank you for reading,

Magda.

PS: A big reason I write is to meet people so feel free to say Hi! on Linkedin here as I’d love to learn more about you.


[i] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-9377397/Neuroscience-Writing-PAPER-leads-brain-activity-recalling-content-hour-later.html

[ii] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2021.634158/full

[iii] https://norwegianscitechnews.com/2020/10/why-writing-by-hand-makes-kids-smarter/

[iv] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2021.634158/full

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels


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