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New Study Finds Brain Activity Differences Between Handwriting And Typing

New research has analyzed brainwave patterns in both children & young adults while they wrote by hand and as they typed on keyboard. The results revealed distinctly different brain patterns between the activities, leading researchers to suggest learning is more benificial when it’s accompanied by handwriting.

Over last couple of decades the prominence of digital devices in educational settings has rapidly expanded. Tablet computing & typing on digital devices has proliferated in classrooms, often at the expense of tasks that traditionally led to the honing of cursive handwriting skills.

Audrey van der Meer, from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has been investigating the brain activity differences between handwriting & typewriting for several years. A compelling 2017 study from van der Meer & colleagues used high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) to diffrentiate brain activity in 20 university students while they typed outwords & drew pictures.

That prior study saw brainwave patterns previously hypothesized as optimal for learning appear when students were handwriting but not when the students were typing. The new research follows on from that study, examining the differences in brain activity between drawing, cursive writing & typewriting in both children & young adults.

“For young adults, we found that when writing by hand while using digital pen on touchscreen, brain areas in parietal & central regions showed event-related synchronized activity in theta range,” the researchers write in newly published study. “Existing literature suggests that such oscillatory neuronal activity in these particular brain areas is most-important for memory & for the encoding of new latest information and, therefore, provides the brain with optimal conditions for learning.”

When the young adult subjects were drawing, the researchers saw activation in similar brain regions, however, the study does note the activation patterns were slightly different. The study says, “the neural processes involved in handwriting & drawing seem to be more almost like one another compared to typewriting.” Brain activity while typing notably differed from both handwriting and drawing.

Interestingly, these brain activity patterns were similar in children studied, but seen to a lesser extent. The researchers suggest this finding affirms the worth of making sure children are exposed to all 3 behaviors – writing, drawing & typing – so as to strengthen each individual brain circuit.

“Learning to write down by hand may be a bit slower process, but it is vital important for youngsters to go through the tiring phase of learning to write down by hand,” explains van der Meer. “The intricate hand movements and therefore the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways. If you use or employ a keyboard, you use as it is movement for every letter. Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills & senses. it is vital important to put the brain in learning state as often as possible. I might use a keyboard to write down an essay, but I’d take notes by hand during a lecture.”

The researchers ultimately explain they’re not in the least calling for a prohibition on digital devices in educational settings. Instead, the study attempts to obviously distinguish the differences in brain activity between the 3 behaviors, and offers the suggestion drawing & handwriting are distinctly different cognitive tasks compared to typewriting, and these neural processes should be equally nurtured in educational settings.

“The present study shows that the underlying brain electrical activity associated with handwriting, typewriting, & drawing is different,” the researchers conclude. “Hence, being conscious of when to use which strategy is significant , whether it’s to find out new conceptual materials or to write down long essays. Albeit there are underlying differences within the 3 strategies, it’s important to notice that the strategies are all cognitive tasks, each serving their own benefits.”