Writing By Hand Improves Your Memory, Experts Say

21/04/2016 11:04 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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Don't throw away your old notebooks just yet. According to experts, sticking with a pen and paper has a some serious benefits (and it has nothing to do going nuts in the newsagent stationery aisle).

In fact, writing by hand appears to improve our ability to remember things, meaning even in today's tech-obsessed society, the pen just might be mightier than Word.

"When we write by hand, we have to coordinate verbal and fine movement systems," Dr Helen Macpherson of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University told The Huffington Post Australia. "And when we learn new information, for example at school or in a university lecture, we don’t write verbatim, which means we have to create our own summaries and concepts.

"Basically, because we can keep pace typing but we can’t keep pace with handwriting, it means we have different ways of encoding the information, which in turn leads to richer memory."

For this reason, some universities are encouraging students to ditch their laptops in lectures and take notes by hand.

"Because you can’t possibly write everything [the lecturer is saying], you have write in a style that allows you to get maximum information from minimum output," Jared Hovarth, from University of Melbourne’s Science of Learning Research Center told HuffPost Australia.

"You can't write 50 words, you can only write five. So you pick the five key words that will help you remember the point. This means you process that information on a deeper level, because you've deciphered what the content is, how it links together, and then picked the five key words that best summarise that content.

"I see this with students all the time in their note taking. Those on laptops will write hundreds more words, but if I ask them, 'what did we just talk about?' the answer will be something like, 'mmmm, I'm not 100 percent sure, I was going to take a look at that later.' The idea being, while they were typing, they weren't really connecting to or processing the information, but were more focused on getting everything down.

"However, you can process it while you are writing by hand, and that can make a big difference."

The fact writing by hand takes us longer isn't the only aspect contributing to richer memory. It also has to do with the very skills it takes to write something in the first place.

"There is a real linearity to a computer," Hovarth said. "When you are typing, you are always going straight, whereas with handwriting, you are circling, you're going up and down, you are drawing lines backwards -- it's very different.

"The very nature of handwriting means you have to write and organise as you are thinking, and that kind of organisation affects how you are interpreting the information.

"It's the way the hand writing forces you to organise your thoughts that leads to deeper processing."

Of course, that's not to say technology in the classroom isn't the way of the future.

"The computer allows us speed and handwriting allows us deep processing. It's a matter of figuring out how we pool the two," Hovarth said.

"As with anything that changes, you are going to lose some things and gain some things. Say if we completely stopped handwriting everywhere, it doesn't mean we are going to lose the ability to process information.

"We are just going to figure out a way that technology can better suit the way we typically learn.

"I would imagine it would mean that linearity there is with a computer would be scrapped. Note taking would be more more interactive. People would find ways to make up for handwriting if we were to lose it.

"I have no doubt we will find ways to make digital work for us and make it suit our purposes."



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