Does Writing by Hand Make You Smarter?

Does Writing by Hand Make You Smarter?

By Jim Windell

            As someone who loves writing with a pencil or pen and who has actually written entire first drafts of books by hand, I found this study especially fascinating. The essence of this study that comes out of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is that both children and adults learn more and remember better when writing in longhand – rather than typing words on a computer.

            Okay, it may be too late to do me much good, but I have always had the sense that when I wrote out something I wanted to remember with a pen on lined paper, I could retain it longer and remember it more accurately.

            Professor Audrey van der Meer, the lead author of the study, and her colleagues at NTNU have investigated this idea several times going back to 2017. In 2017, Van der Meer and others  examined the brain activity of 20 students. Recently, they have published a new study in which they examined brain activity in 12 young adults and 12 children. This is the first time that children have participated in such a study. This and a previous research project were conducted using an EEG to track and record brain wave activity. Since the brain produces electrical impulses when it is active, the 250 sensors on each person’s head during this study were able to pick up the electrical activity that takes place in the brain.

           The results of this latest study showed that the brain in both young adults and children is much more active when writing by hand than when typing on a keyboard.

          "The use of pen and paper gives the brain more ‘hooks’ to hang your memories on,” Van der Meer said. “Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better," she added.

           Research shows that children in Europe and America spend a great deal of their time everyday online. One survey found that Norwegian children ages 9 to16 spend almost four hours online every day. A U.S. study in 2019 found that American teenagers spend more than nine hours a day on a device with screen for leisure, entertainment and schoolwork.

           Van der Meer thinks digital learning has many positive aspects, but urges handwriting training. “Given the development of the last several years, we risk having one or more generations lose the ability to write by hand,” she said. “Our research and that of others show that this would be a very unfortunate consequence."

          She stresses that writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses. And she emphasizes that it is important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible. “I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I'd take notes by hand during a lecture," says Van der Meer.

          Van der Meer believes that national guidelines should be put in place in Norway to ensure children receive at least a minimum of handwriting training.

          That might not be a bad thing to consider in the U.S. as well.

           In the meantime, I will continue to write in longhand every chance I get.

          To read the original source of the story, click here.

           To read the journal article, go to:

Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel, Audrey L. H. van der Meer. The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young AdultsFrontiers in Psychology, 2020; 11 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810

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