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How Handwriting Benefits Your Brain – And How To Go Longhand In The Digital Age

In the era of smartphones, tablets, and laptops, writing by hand might seem to some an increasingly quaint pastime–and one perhaps doomed to die out. But writing by hand versus on a keyboard offers some intriguing brain-boosting perks, according to the latest  research.


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Neuroresearch suggests that writing by hand turns on a unique “switch” in our brains, one which allows us to learn more effectively. Collège de France psychologist  Stanislas Dehaene explains, “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain…And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize.” Studies using MRIs to track brain activity, such as the oft-quoted 2012 study by researchers at Indiana State,  back this idea of most effective, more sophisticated learning in children who are writing by hand. Another study, which tracked elementary school students over five years, found distinct learning patterns in students correlated to whether they used primarily print, cursive, or typing–and the students who wrote by hand were able to express more ideas more quickly than those who typed.  Yet another study found improved recall in students who took longhand notes vs. notes on a laptop. Some physicians have even hypothesized that writing by hand could be a way to help us stay sharp–preserving our memory, and allowing us to keep learning–as we age. Moral of the story? The evidence suggests writing by hand is the way to go when we want to learn.


Incorporating Longhand Into Daily Life

We used keyboards for a reason. Actually, for many reasons, a big one being that it allows us to share and organize our words more easily. Want to harness the power of longhand without falling behind? Here are some tips.

  • Try a scanner app. Scanner applications have come a long way in the past several years. Now, it’s easier than ever to quickly scan a note into your phone and share it. Cheaper than ever, too–whereas quality low-end traditional scanners run $70-$80, even really great apps max out at $5. Check out CNET’s recommendations for the best of the best.
  • Use a stylus. Get the feel and benefits of longhand while still writing directly into your smartphone or tablet with a stylus.

Make it a team effort. Get your whole office on board–sometimes, just knowing you’re doing something brain-building can make you feel smarter. Stock up on business promotional pens, styli, and notepads to make it simple for anyone to get involved.