The unexpected power of handwriting

Updated: Feb 25

In an age of global digitalization, it may seem unnecessary to still write by hand considering many of us always have a technological tool at hand. But the fact is that there are many benefits to using a pen on paper, or a touch pen on a screen, instead. Many experts in the educational field now warn us about what can be lost along with the digitization. If we do not adapt our tools to how our brain works, we may be losing more than we stand to gain. But what are the benefits of handwriting, and why is it so?

The art of writing is said to have been invented in Mesopotamia about 6000 years ago. Since then, a lot has changed. We no longer write on clay tiles, we do not use the same characters and we do not even write in the same language as then. What has not changed, however, is that we still use our hands to write down what we are thinking about. So what is the difference between typing on a keyboard compared to using a pen? Shouldn't both things be basically the same?

Not according to the experts! The Guardian has spoken to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneve. Unlike writing on a keyboard, he considers handwriting to be a complicated task which requires years to master. Additionally, the movement required to write different letters does not differ if you type on a computer. With the push of a button, you can get any letter. This is also pointed out by Roland Jouvent, who is the head of adult psychiatry at one of the hospitals in Paris.

This makes us wonder, what is the effect on school children if they are not allowed to write things by hand? Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, researchers in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Aix-Marseille, may have the answer to that question. They found in their studies that both children and adults learn the alphabet better if they can write the letters by hand. It can then be concluded that the possibility of writing something by hand seems to be of great importance to someone's learning. Gentaz also emphasizes the power of our body memory which stroke patients for example use to remember the alphabet. When they write the letters with one of their fingers, they remember what that letter looks like.

Anne Mangen, from the University of Stavanger, also says that we take in more useful information when we write by hand. This is because other parts of the brain are activated during this activity compared to typing via a keyboard. This is basically due to the combination of the fine motor skills of the fingers and the feeling of the movement of the pen over the surface when you write.

Jouvent also points out that handwriting is a way for people to express their personality and that it allows us to be more creative as we are no longer limited by what symbols the computer, or similar tools, can produce. When we write by hand, we can write exactly where we want, or precisely how big or small we want, without having to change a single setting.

A study from last year, conducted by William Hinkley, Neil Heffernan, and Helen Lee Bouygues also shows similar results. The students who used a pen to solve math problems performed significantly better than those who just typed on a keyboard. This is because they could get an overview of the problem and then see which should be the next logical step in the calculation.

In summary, it is clear that there are many benefits of writing by hand. For starters, we remember what we write down better. Moreover, we have greater freedom and can express our personality in a better way. The effect becomes especially clear when it comes to solving mathematical problems, as it is easier to get an overview of the process if you write by hand. If you want to keep up with the digitalization, but at the same time take advantage of this, you can use a touch pen instead of pen and paper. The important thing is to not abandon the art of handwriting.

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