CAREER ADVANCEMENT / JUN. 16, 2014
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Why Writing by Hand Will Boost Your Memory

In a world of sophisticated gadgets, people really don’t write anymore. They would prefer to do that with touch screens or keypads, not with a pen or paper. Nobody has the time to scribble anything by hand anymore. But we really shouldn’t just forsake the act of writing by hand. Why?

We already know that handwriting is instrumental when we're first learning to read and write, but new research suggests that it may also be beneficial long after we've mastered both skills.

A significant Test

In a series of three experiments published this month in Psychological Science, college students were divided into two groups; one group was instructed to attend lectures and take notes by hand on paper and the other was told to type up their notes on laptops. While the students who typed out their notes were able to take more of them (in many cases, producing near verbatim transcripts of the lecture), when tested on conceptual understanding of the material they performed worse than their longhand note taking peers.

An Ability to Process Faster

Interestingly, this gap in achievement persisted even when students were given a week to study their notes before being tested on the material. Despite having nearly complete transcripts of the lectures, laptop note takers were unable to digest and process what they'd recorded as well as those who had taken far less notes the old fashioned way.

Benefits of Writing By Hand

Writing by hand is ungainly and slower than typing, but that could be an advantage when it comes to retention and understanding, the authors speculate. Unlike laptop note takers, who could mentally check-out during the lecture, confident in their ability to capture nearly every word, longhand note takers were forced to pay attention to what was being said. They didn't have the luxury of recording everything, and so they had to process and condense information in real time.

In general, the more verbatim a student's notes, the lower his or her retention of the lecture material, the authors found. "It appears that students who use laptops can take notes in a fairly mindless, rote fashion, with little analysis or synthesis by the brain," they wrote. "This kind of shallow transcription fails to promote a meaningful understanding or application of the information."

An affirmation from Other Researched Findings

This researched findings gives credence even to what business consultant Brian Tracy purports that there is a connection between the hand and the brain when words are written down. Writing longhand is a workout. No, not necessarily for your wrist, but for your brain.

According to The Wall Street Journal, some physicians claim that the act of writing — which engages your motor-skills, memory, and more — is good cognitive exercise for baby boomers who want to keep their minds sharp as they age. And if you're looking to pick up a new skill, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience found that adults had an easier time recognizing new characters — like Chinese, math symbols, or music notes — that were written by hand over characters generated by a computer.

In the long run, such findings points out that your effort to write by hand is not in vain. So next time you find yourself jotting or scribbling down words during a meeting or a class, don’t complain. You definitely will thank your brain later.

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