Writing Helps Memory More than Typing

By on January 28th, 2011 20:01 GMT

A new investigation proved that people who use a pen and paper to write down information tend to remember it a lot easier than if they type it on a computer keyboard or a touchscreen.

Experts say that the correlation is caused by the way in which writing sends feedback signals to the brain, which learns the motions associated with drawing each letter or character.

This ability may in fact be responsible for allowing human brain to more accurately remember data. If the information being recalled is encoded by motions as well, then it can be accessed through two different pathways, rather than a single one.

These discoveries have major implications, because currently schools are starting to place less emphasis on penmanship and writing, and more on keyboard skills. This is normal, since everyone in today's society is required to operate computers and similar devices.

But disregarding old-fashioned writing – using a pen and paper – may turn out to be a very serious mistake, investigators at the University of Stavanger in Norway, and from France, say in the new study.

Details of the new research appears in the latest issue of the scientific journal Advances in Haptics. The study was led by University of Stavanger researcher Anne Mangen and French neuroscientist Jean-Luc Velay.

Though the correlation may not be as strong for seniors and older adults, the newer generations, made up of people below 40 or so, is having increasingly little to do with traditional writing. Some have never touched pens in years, or have written only a handful of sentences since.

“I can't tell you the last time I wrote more than a few sentences by hand. It's literally been years,” says Louisville, Ky-based journalist Jacob Payne, who is 28 years old.

For him, and others of his age, laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers have replaced pens and paper as the medium of choice. The electronic devices allow for he recording, reporting, editing and publishing of works ranging from written reports to short clips and other audio-video media.

The US national Common Core State Standards Initiative does not feature requirements related to normal writing, but rather to keyboarding skills. Researchers say that this may need to be revised.

Mangen explains that children and adults alike benefit when they see their own hand writing a letter. Typing a “t” or an “y” is the same thing, feeling-wise, and the output is seen somewhere else, usually on a screen.

This does not even begin to compare to seeing each individual letter being shaped by a person's own hand, via direct-feedback mechanisms, say experts at Northwestern University's MEDILL news service.

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The physical act of making new letters or characters by hand, such as these in Chinese, can help learners remember them better, research shows
   The physical act of making new letters or characters by hand, such as these in Chinese, can help learners remember them better, research shows