Your Brain Can Use a Helping Hand

By the SMU Social Media Team

Penmanship is virtually dead in this era of computers and smartphones. But studies now show that writing by hand can help boost your brain.

Whether it’s sending an email or surfing the internet, everyone has to type, not write. And when was the last time you actually wrote on paper instead of printing it?

It’s hard to deny that typing is not only faster as virtual mistakes can be quickly corrected, and also more efficient because editing your work is a cinch.

But experts say there is grey matter to lose if the art of writing by hand disappears. This is because using the pen or pencil improves your mental abilities by helping with everything from better memory and clearer thinking, to reducing stress and enhancing creativity.

So how does writing actually affect your brain? Here are some thoughts:


Better Writing, Better Reading

Studies on young children have shown that the handwriting of letters—as opposed to typing or tracing them out—aids their letter perception, thus impacting their reading skills. This is because thinking about the letter before producing it reinforces letter recognition.

Think of writing as a gym workout for a child’s brain. The effort it takes to learn to write plays a significant role in the development of their nascent motor skills, as hand-eye coordination is required to produce each letter on a page.


Trains The Brain

As adults, writing helps us to compose ideas and shape expression. It is a more neurologically complicated process than typing because the physical act of writing triggers more regions of the brain involved in thinking, remembering and language.

In fact, research has discovered that cursive writing, in particular, is an important tool for cognitive development. This is because it trains the brain to develop functional specialisation, where different areas of the brain are specialised for different functions.


Improved Memory

Typing is a more mechanical and less complex task than writing, which gets the brain synapses really firing. And synapses are critical to memory formation and storage.

If you are taking notes by hand, writing can help you to remember more of what you’re working on.

And if you are learning new information, say during a lecture or tutorial, writing by hand needs more mental processing to conceptualise and summarise what is seen and heard, rather than when taking everything down verbatim. In fact, a study by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA has found that while note-taking on the computer may be faster, it could hamper your ability to absorb information—and that’s even if you weren’t distracted by the multiple tabs on your browser or your email notifications.

You know who else takes notes from pen to paper? Richard Branson and Bill Gates. How about that!


Enhancing Creativity

It’s intriguing to know that MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans have shown that some areas of the brain demonstrate increased neural activity when writing by hand. Such mental activity is necessary for different stages of the creative process and ideas are more easily generated.

There is also a certain rhythm and flow that only writing by hand can produce, and this influences the pacing and depth of your written work—quite different from merely banging something out on the keyboard.


Stress Relief

The physical act of writing can be relaxing. As your fingers grasp the pen, and the hand dances across the paper, your writing slows you down both physically and mentally.

It can have a meditative effect because it eases your tensions and you become more contemplative.

Writing by hand may not quite soothe the soul but it should be good therapy for any psyche. Just remember not to write about something negative.


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