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Typing Is for Speed, Handwriting Is for Memories?

A study suggests that while typing offers speed, handwriting provides a more stimulating workout for the brain.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology highlights handwriting as a potential tool for enhancing cognitive health. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology investigated the neurological effects of writing methods on 36 university students.

The experiment involved participants writing cursive words with a digital pen or typing them on a keyboard. Words like “forest” or “hedgehog” appeared on a screen, prompting participants to repeatedly write or type them within a 25-second timeframe.

Brain activity was monitored throughout the exercise using a sensor cap equipped with numerous electrodes. These electrodes, attached to the scalp, captured electrical signals, revealing which brain regions were active and how they communicated.

The study found a significant difference. Handwriting necessitated communication between the brain’s visual, sensory, and motor cortices. Participants using the digital pen had to visualize letters and then utilize fine motor skills for controlled writing movements.

“When forming letters by hand, an ‘A’ looks distinct from a ‘B,’ requiring a unique movement pattern,” .

Audrey van der Meer – co-author and neuropsychology professor

In contrast, typing involves keys with minimal visual distinction between letters. Consequently, the study revealed lower brain activity in the visual and motor cortices during typing.

“Limited brain regions are activated during typing, reducing the need for inter-communication between different areas.”

Audrey van der Meer

This research aligns with van der Meer’s prior studies on children and young adults, suggesting increased brain activity while handwriting compared to typing. Additionally, a 2017 Indiana University study indicated a potential link between handwriting and improved visual-motor skills, which may benefit children’s letter recognition.

However, current evidence regarding the impact of note-taking methods (paper vs. laptop) on memory, comprehension, or academic performance remains inconclusive.

Further research is needed to determine whether and how the observed brain activity translates into real-world learning and memory improvements, as noted by Ramesh Balasubramaniam, a neuroscientist not involved in the study.

“Difficulties with fine motor skills can present obstacles for certain students. Conversely, some evidence suggests that handwriting, especially cursive, can be particularly advantageous for students with dyslexia.”

Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor of education at USC Rossier School of Education.

The inclusion of cursive instruction in schools has faced political debate in the United States. California, for instance, recently implemented a law requiring public schools to provide cursive instruction between first and sixth grades. An estimated twenty states currently have some form of cursive instruction mandate.

Polikoff explained that some proponents of cursive instruction value its historical significance, its traditional use in signatures, or simply its aesthetic appeal.

On the other hand, co-author Audrey van der Meer has faced criticism for advocating a return to outdated practices. She emphasizes the potential value of both handwriting and typing in the classroom.

“Our society is undeniably digital, and this trend is likely to continue. For lengthy essays or extended text production, using a computer is demonstrably more efficient.”

Audrey van der Meer


As traditional handwriting is progressively being replaced by digital devices, it is essential to investigate the implications for the human brain. Brain electrical activity was recorded in 36 university students as they were handwriting visually presented words using a digital pen and typewriting the words on a keyboard. Connectivity analyses were performed on EEG data recorded with a 256-channel sensor array. When writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns were far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard, as shown by widespread theta/alpha connectivity coherence patterns between network hubs and nodes in parietal and central brain regions. Existing literature indicates that connectivity patterns in these brain areas and at such frequencies are crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, are beneficial for learning. Our findings suggest that the spatiotemporal pattern from visual and proprioceptive information obtained through the precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen, contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning. We urge that children, from an early age, must be exposed to handwriting activities in school to establish the neuronal connectivity patterns that provide the brain with optimal conditions for learning. Although it is vital to maintain handwriting practice at school, it is also important to keep up with continuously developing technological advances. Therefore, both teachers and students should be aware of which practice has the best learning effect in what context, for example when taking lecture notes or when writing an essay.

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