Ditch the Keyboard & Pick up a Pen — Your Brain Will Thank You
The benefits of handwriting for brain health have been well documented.
The benefits of handwriting for brain health have been well documented.(Photo: iStockphoto)

Ditch the Keyboard & Pick up a Pen — Your Brain Will Thank You

When was the last time you grabbed a pen to take some notes?

With phones and laptops at our constant disposal — buying, carrying, and then actually using a notebook seems like a bit too much of effort. But what if I tell you that this almost instinctive choice you are making — of typing instead of writing — is denying your brain its much-needed workout?

Before you type (don't miss the irony!) 'handwriting and brain' on your search engine, let me break it down for you.

The benefits of writing have been well documented. In fact, the need for children to learn how to write has been a hot topic of debate in some regions of the world, with aggressive lobbying and movements to bring it back to the forefront.

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Why Write When You Can Type?

Writing stimulates the brain and involves more information processing than typing.
Writing stimulates the brain and involves more information processing than typing.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

A study from 2012, for instance, among preliterate five-year-old children, found that “brain activation during letter perception is influenced in different and important ways by previous handwriting of letters versus previous typing or tracing of those same letters.”

Another one from 2014 discovered that laptop note-taking could be impairing learning because of shallow processing of information, and students doing that performed ‘worse in conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.’

“We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and re-framing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
The study

Similarly, in a paper from 2005, researchers compared typing and writing in children and observed that writing by hand helped the older children recall the letters better.

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But that’s not all. FIT reached out to experts to help understand the mechanisms behind this well-researched link.

Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director, Department of Mental Health at Max Hospitals, explained that people are able to think critically when they write. “The development of pencil grasp is a fine motor skill. The graphics and movement with which you draw with the pen enhances your cognitive abilities. It also goes hand-in-hand with reading skills.”

“There are more cognitive tasks involved with writing than in typing. When you’re doing the latter, you’re not doing much of information processing. But when you write, you take some time and process what is important. So it is considered to be better in that sense.”
Dr Sameer Malhotra, Psychiatrist 

Dr Manjari Tripathi, Neurologist at AIIMS Delhi, talks about the ‘diffuse brain regions’ involved in the activity of writing. “The switching between these regions is a form of exercise for the brain to build up cognitive resilience.”

“The sensory inputs while writing involve different fingers and wider regions in the brain, because the hand has a wider representation in the cortex.”
Dr Manjari Tripathi

Moreover, the ‘texting’ lingo on phones is not of any nutritional value to brain development, especially when compared to writing, she says.

Dr Kamna Chhibber, Clinical Psychologist and Head of the Mental Health Department at Fortis Healthcare, explains that there is sufficient research that shows that writing tends to solidify the neural pathways within our brains, which are responsible for our understanding of the word.

“For instance, when you are forming an alphabet with your hand, you are creating memories of the alphabet. The same relates to words, sentences and paragraphs. You think, process, and attach meanings to what you eventually write. ”
Dr Kamna Chhibber

“That’s why, for children who are still learning to read or who are in the process of acquiring a language — writing by hand along with reading, will give the best results.”

With all this evidence, we know there is a direct link between longhand and brain health. So next time you’re rushing for a meeting, try and look for that notepad you remember keeping somewhere in your bag, instead of the phone you already have in your hand. Do it for your brain!

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