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Typewriting does not promote the same neurophysiological processes as handwriting, study finds



A study published on July 28 in Frontiers in Psychology found differences in brain activity when children write by hand versus type words on a computer. Children who wrote by hand showed increased activation of brain areas important in learning and processing information.

“It seems that keyboards and pens bring into play different underlying neurological processes. This may not be surprising since handwriting/drawing is a complex task that requires the integration of various skills. Children, for example, take several years to master this precise skill. They have to learn how to hold the pen firmly while producing a different print for each letter. Operating a keyboard is something completely different since all one has to do is press the right key, and the typing movement is the same whatever the letter,” said the authors.

The study recruited 12 adults and 12 middle school students experienced in writing cursive. Everybody was right-handed. Fifteen Pictionary words ranging from concrete (shoe) to more abstract terms (birthday) would briefly appear. Participants would then be instructed to either write in cursive, type or draw the word out. In the second phase, participants were hooked up to an EEG machine to record brain activity. They were then shown a new set of words and instructed to describe the word, copy a sentence, or draw the word out.

Typing or describing a word was associated with the ideation stage (thinking about how to draw or describe a word). However, the authors note that apart from this stage, typing specifically “repeatedly involves only shallow processing and no creativity.” There were also no differences in brain activity between typing or describing a word.

Participants who drew the word showed increased brain activation in the parietal (important in processing language and attention) and occipital (important in visual processing) areas of the brain compared to participants who described the word. These results were seen in both adults and children but to a lesser extent in children.

“When using technological advances, it is important to ensure that handwriting practice remains a central activity in early letter learning, regardless if this occurs with a stylus and tablet or traditional paper and pencil.”

The study “The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults” was authored by Eva Ose Askvik, F.R (Ruud) van der Weel, and Audrey L. H. van der Meer.


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