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The Power of Handwriting

Numerous studies and many experts caution about what could be lost alongside digitalization if we don't tailor our tools to how our brains function, but what exactly are the benefits of handwriting and why is it so significant?
Leslie Nielsen
February 9, 2024

The art of writing was likely invented in Mesopotamia around 6,000 years ago and since then, many changes have occurred. We no longer write on clay tablets, we don't use the same symbols, nor do we write in the same language as back then. What hasn't changed, though, is that we use our hands to jot down what we're thinking. So, what's the difference between typing on a keyboard and using a pen? Shouldn't both fundamentally be the same?

Not according to experts The Guardian spoke with. Edouard Gentaz, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, argues that handwriting is a complex task that takes years to master, while typing on a keyboard requires far less effort. Moreover, the movement doesn't change between different letters when you type on a computer; a single press of a button can produce any letter. Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at a Parisian hospital, also highlights this point.

So, how would schoolchildren be affected if they were not allowed to write by hand? Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, researchers in cognitive neuroscience at Aix-Marseille University, may have the answer. Their studies show that both children and adults learn the alphabet better when they write the letters by hand. This leads to the conclusion that the ability to write by hand is crucial for someone's learning process. Gentaz also emphasizes the power of our muscle memory. This is a trick that stroke patients use to remember the alphabet; by tracing letters with their finger, they recall how they look.

Anne Mangen from the University of Stavanger also states that we absorb more useful information when we write by hand. This is because different parts of the brain are activated during this activity compared to typing on a keyboard. The reason lies fundamentally in the combination of the fingers' fine motor skills and the sensation of the pen moving across the surface.

Jouvent also notes that handwriting is a way for people to express their personality and allows for more creativity since we're not limited by the symbols that a computer, or similar tool, can produce. When we write by hand, we can write exactly where we want, as big or as small as we want, all 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. Students who used a pen to solve math problems performed significantly better than those who only typed on a keyboard. This is likely because they could more easily get an overview of the problem and then more easily discern the next logical step in the calculation.

In summary, it's clear that there are many advantages to writing by hand. Not only do we remember what we write down better, but we also have greater freedom and can express our personality in a completely different way. The effect is particularly evident when it comes to solving mathematical problems, as it's easier to get an overview of the process. If one wants to be more modern but still take advantage of this, one could use a stylus instead of pen and paper. The important thing is not to abandon handwriting and the benefits it brings, for good.

EdTech InsightsArticles

The Power of Handwriting

Numerous studies and many experts caution about what could be lost alongside digitalization if we don't tailor our tools to how our brains function, but what exactly are the benefits of handwriting and why is it so significant?
Leslie Nielsen
Feb 9

The art of writing was likely invented in Mesopotamia around 6,000 years ago and since then, many changes have occurred. We no longer write on clay tablets, we don't use the same symbols, nor do we write in the same language as back then. What hasn't changed, though, is that we use our hands to jot down what we're thinking. So, what's the difference between typing on a keyboard and using a pen? Shouldn't both fundamentally be the same?

Not according to experts The Guardian spoke with. Edouard Gentaz, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, argues that handwriting is a complex task that takes years to master, while typing on a keyboard requires far less effort. Moreover, the movement doesn't change between different letters when you type on a computer; a single press of a button can produce any letter. Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at a Parisian hospital, also highlights this point.

So, how would schoolchildren be affected if they were not allowed to write by hand? Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, researchers in cognitive neuroscience at Aix-Marseille University, may have the answer. Their studies show that both children and adults learn the alphabet better when they write the letters by hand. This leads to the conclusion that the ability to write by hand is crucial for someone's learning process. Gentaz also emphasizes the power of our muscle memory. This is a trick that stroke patients use to remember the alphabet; by tracing letters with their finger, they recall how they look.

Anne Mangen from the University of Stavanger also states that we absorb more useful information when we write by hand. This is because different parts of the brain are activated during this activity compared to typing on a keyboard. The reason lies fundamentally in the combination of the fingers' fine motor skills and the sensation of the pen moving across the surface.

Jouvent also notes that handwriting is a way for people to express their personality and allows for more creativity since we're not limited by the symbols that a computer, or similar tool, can produce. When we write by hand, we can write exactly where we want, as big or as small as we want, all 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. Students who used a pen to solve math problems performed significantly better than those who only typed on a keyboard. This is likely because they could more easily get an overview of the problem and then more easily discern the next logical step in the calculation.

In summary, it's clear that there are many advantages to writing by hand. Not only do we remember what we write down better, but we also have greater freedom and can express our personality in a completely different way. The effect is particularly evident when it comes to solving mathematical problems, as it's easier to get an overview of the process. If one wants to be more modern but still take advantage of this, one could use a stylus instead of pen and paper. The important thing is not to abandon handwriting and the benefits it brings, for good.

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