‘Young folk don’t write in cursive anymore’ is a common complaint of older folks in this keyboard-obsessed age.
Now, new research suggests that kids who ignore handwriting are, in fact, missing out: By the time they reach college, their brain “connectivity” may be weaker than folks who write regularly.
In a study of 36 university students, “we show that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard,” said study co-author Audrey van der Meer, a brain researcher and professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Better neural connectivity has myriad brain benefits, she added.
“Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information and, therefore, is beneficial for learning,” van der Meer explained in a university news release.
Her team published its findings Jan. 26 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
In the study, the Norwegian team tracked electroencephalogram (EEG) data from the group of students who were repeatedly asked to write or type a word they saw on a screen. EEG records electrical activity in the brain.
The study had the students use a digital pen to write the word in cursive on a touchscreen and a single finger to type out the word on a keyboard. EEGs recorded brain activity every five seconds during these tasks.
Brain connectivity — the communication between various brain regions — increased when students wrote the words in cursive, but not when they typed.
The researchers had a theory as to why that might be so.
“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 said.
Even though the participants wrote onto a touchscreen, van der Meer’s group believe the results would be similar using pen and paper.
Parents might see the negatives of neglecting handwriting early on in their child’s development, according to van der Meer.
The study “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’,” she explained. “They literally haven’t felt with their bodies what it feels like to produce those letters.”
Based on the findings, the Norwegian team believes there should be renewed efforts by schools to give kids at least a minimum amount of handwriting instruction. Many U.S. states have already implemented some form of cursive instruction at schools, the researchers noted.
Even among older folks, handwriting might enhance learning in the classroom.
“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,” van der Meer concluded.
Find out more about brain development in kids at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Frontiers journals, news release, Jan. 26, 2024
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