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Researchers are testing writing and typing methods of studying to see which one is best

Study reveals which of the two, writing or typing has benefits when it comes to retaining study material in the brain.

Researchers are testing writing and typing methods of studying to see which one is best
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Poppy Thomas Hill, Frontiers | Prof. Audrey van der Meer

The world is changing at a fast rate. So, many things that were staples at one point in time are slowly and steadily being wiped out of existence. One of the practices that has experienced a considerable downfall in usage is handwriting. Cursive writing was already removed from required Common Core Standards for K-12 education in 2010, as per NPR but writing in itself has also experienced a significant decrease in popularity. In educational and professional institutions people have started to choose recorders or typing to get in their notes. This prompted a team of researchers to analyze how beneficial or not this shift is for human beings. 

Representative Image Source: Pexels | RDNE Stock project
Representative Image Source: Pexels | RDNE Stock project

The research was published by Frontiers, The team behind it was a group of luminaries from Norway. To understand which action is more beneficial, the researchers used 36 university students as subjects. The students were connected to the EEG machines and prompted to either write or type a word. While writing the subjects used a digital pen and put it to use directly on a screen. The researchers then took the readings to analyze the neural networks in the brains of these subjects while both actions were being undertaken. After a thorough analysis, they came to the conclusion that brain connectivity as a whole strengthened when people were writing.

“We show that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard,” said Prof Audrey van der Meer, a brain researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychology. “Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning.” In acquiring education it is essential that students learn how to retain concepts and theories, writing seems to do a better job at this function in comparison to typing.

Prof. van der Meer added, “Our findings suggest that visual and movement information obtained through precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning.” Though some might have doubts about the outcome as the action of writing was undertaken on screen, researchers are not particularly bothered about it. “We have shown that the differences in brain activity are related to the careful forming of the letters when writing by hand while making more use of the senses,” van der Meer explained. These movements will be similar even if the pursuit takes place on paper.

The key factor behind this difference, as per the researchers was stimulation. Writing stimulates the brain to absorb and feel what is being taught. Prof. van der Meer shared an example to prove the point. “This also explains why children who have learned to write and read on a tablet, can have difficulty differentiating between letters that are mirror images of each other, such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. They haven’t felt with their bodies what it feels like to produce those letters,” she elucidated.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Tarazevich
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Tarazevich

The researchers suggested that authorities must take these findings seriously for the benefit of students. Though change is the norm of the world, it is important to retain some old practices for their core benefits. They applauded the move taken by many states to reinstate cursive writing. Prof. van der Meer concluded by giving a plan for authorities to consider, “There is some evidence that students learn more and remember better when taking handwritten lecture notes, while using a computer with a keyboard may be more practical when writing a long text or essay.”

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