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Writing by hand leads to higher brain connectivity than typing on a keyboard 

Jan. 26, 2024.
2 min. read 1 Interactions

Evidence from EEG study

About the Writer

Amara Angelica

186.12894 MPXR

Amara uses a fine-point Pilot 0.5mm pen to draw notes as diagrams

illustration of EEG connectivity patterns, revealing a concentration of 16 significant connections for handwriting compared to typewriting. Connection lines in red indicate connectivity in the theta range whereas lines in blue indicate connectivity in the alpha range. Levels of significance in connectivity strength for handwriting, but not for typewriting are further indicated by solid (<0.0001), dashed (<0.005), and dotted (<0.05) connection lines. (credit: F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. Van der Meer)

What have we lost by typing on a keyboard? To find out, researchers in Norway are investigating the underlying neural networks involved in both modes of 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.”

Research design

The researchers collected EEG data from 36 university students who were repeatedly prompted to either write or type a word that appeared on a screen. When writing, they used a digital pen to write in cursive directly on a touchscreen. When typing they used a single finger to press keys on a keyboard.

High-density EEGs, which measure electrical activity in the brain using 256 small sensors sewn in a net and placed over the head, were recorded for five seconds for every prompt.

Connectivity of different brain regions increased when participants wrote by hand, but not when they typed.

Movement for memory

“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. Since it is the movement of the fingers carried out when forming letters that promotes brain connectivity, writing in print is also expected to have similar benefits for learning as cursive writing.”

On the contrary, the simple movement of hitting a key with the same finger repeatedly is less stimulating for the brain. “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 literally haven’t felt with their bodies what it feels like to produce those letters,” van der Meer said.

Citation: H., A. L. (2024). Handwriting but not typewriting leads to widespread brain connectivity: A high-density EEG study with implications for the classroom. Frontiers in Psychology, 14, 1219945. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1219945 (open access)

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