A Project Encephalon & The Science Paradox Collaboration article
Handwriting is a skill we have learned to master in school and has been practiced by people since time immemorial. As all of us are slowly shifting to the digital age, handwriting is rarely being witnessed, with typing being the frontrunner for a simple leave application or even assignments of some 20 pages or so. Many of us have started feeling that handwriting is time-consuming and monotonous, which might be true. However, it is still considered the most crucial means for children and adults to learn a new language or retain information in a better way. Handwriting has proven to be a good mental exercise and necessary for proper brain development. Our hands and pens are undoubtedly the perfect matches for our brains!
From time immemorial, humans have conveyed their thoughts not just by vocal expression but also by putting them in words and figures. The ancient man started by engraving pictures on stones of caves. Later there was a drift from graphical presentation to scriptwriting. Our ancient literature was also penned down in different scripts. This indicates that handwriting has been a very integral part of our culture and tradition. With modernization, the use of electronic gadgets has become an integral part of our daily lives. Handwriting is slowly fading away as typing is gradually coming into the scene. The current generation considers writing by hand outdated and sees typing as a faster, environment friendly and more feasible method. So it is not a surprise that people are gradually shifting from writing to typing. But does this have any implications on the human body? Yes!
From learning to synchronizing sensory and motor activities, writing individual letters, to complex literature, every event demands an integrated functioning of different brain areas. Our brain’s frontal and parietal lobes are jointly responsible for writing. In response to stimuli from her environment, a toddler starts with random scribbles using crayons or chalks, smears of paint, and shapes that don’t necessarily make sense. With improvement in visual and motor skills, she learns to make meaningful shapes and patterns. According to neurophysiologist Luria (1973), a person learns to write by first memorizing the graphical representation of every letter. There occurs a chain of independent motor impulses that are responsible for the outcome of only one element of the graphic structure (like the horizontal line of the letter 'A'). With time and proper writing practice, an amalgamation of each element and character converts discrete learning to writing as a "single kinetic melody.”
Many have experienced that handwriting helps retain more information, like taking notes in a class. Scientists have proved this by studying the brain activity of children and adults. Van der Meer and Van der Weel (2017) employed electroencephalography (EEG) which detects electrical activity of the brain, to determine the effect of handwriting and typing on brain functioning. Adults and children who were made to write by hand showed increased neuronal activity in the central and parietal regions of the brain in the theta wave range, which is crucial for memory and processing novel data. Klimesch et al. (1994) also suggested enhanced hippocampus activity during handwriting, which is the organ associated with memory and learning.
The activity of writing demands to activate the reticular activating system (RAS) of our brain. This is the region that is responsible for wakefulness, alertness and filtering of stimuli. In other words RAS essentially helps us to focus on what is useful. So handwriting, by activating RAS, indirectly tends to zero down our attention to constructive things.
James and Engelhardt (2012) conducted research on pre-literate children taking baby steps to learn letters and words. They were made to write, trace and type a group of letters while being subjected to functional MRI scanning. fMRI examines activity inside the brain by determining the blood flow to different regions. Results depict that writing and tracing activates the brain more as compared to typing. Handwriting requires several controlled movements, from holding the pen/pencil properly, to creating the correct stroke to develop that character. These activities enhance more neuronal networks and thus, help in better understanding and learning.
When a child tries to write a particular letter, she creates diverse versions of it. For instance, she may write ‘A’ a bit wobbly on the first try, perfect the lines the second time, or may also distort the position of the middle line. Scientists say that when children create different versions of letters like these by writing, they are able to perceive and remember that letter properly, which may also aid in its identification when they encounter that type of letter again. Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) conducted research amongst students at Princeton University and University of California, showing that those who deployed writing by hand to make notes could answer questions better than those who resorted to typing. As handwriting can be slower compared to typing, it leads us to expansively think about what we should jot down in our notes, aiding in better comprehension and learning.
In this era, typing skills are considered paramount. Typing helps us write down essays and letters quicker, saving heaps of time. We can produce documents that can be edited easily and are legible to everyone. However, we cannot overlook what science and research have got to present. Handwriting develops fine motor skills, enhances reading ability and also boosts retention of facts and memory retrieval. If we are keen to learn a new language, handwriting is the means to do it with better understanding. Handwriting is a skill people have been using for ages to communicate. It is a form of communication that helps develop the brain and makes us understand the meaning of every letter, word, and sentence we come across.
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5. Ose Askvik, E., van der Weel, F. R. R., & van der Meer, A. L. H. (2020). The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810
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Writers: Sreelakshmi S Kumar (TSP) and Bhagyajyoti Priyadarshini (PE)
Illustrators: Jaykrishnan Nair (TSP) and Harshini Anand (PE)
Editors: Luminaa Anandh (TSP) and Shreyas Gadge (PE)