Pen to paper: the beneficial effects of handwritten notes on learning and memory

This post is also available in Dutch.

In our hyper-connected world, we tend to heavily rely on laptops and tablets to take notes with the hopes of remembering information better in the future. But could our note-taking method influence how well we learn and remember?

A beneficial effect of handwritten notes across various memory tasks

The image of students carrying bags full of books and pens today is quite outdated. Most students nowadays mostly rely on their laptops and type their notes instead of writing them out in a notebook. However, multiple studies seem to suggest that handwriting notes lead to better memory for new information than typed notes. Researchers observed that handwritten notes led to better memory across different tasks, such as increased word recall, letter recognition, as well as immediate and delayed learning of newly learned words in a foreign language.

The effect of handwriting on brain connectivity

So why does the modality used in taking notes matter so much? Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to examine how the brain reacted to these two types of note-taking. Think of your brain as a music band made of musicians playing various instruments, which represents different parts of your brain. They sometimes play at their own rhythm, and other times they come together to create a harmonious melody. Similarly, the electrical activity in different regions of your brain fluctuates in various frequency bands. When the activity fluctuates in synchrony between two regions, researchers sometimes deduce that two regions are working together to support a certain cognitive function. Recently, researchers compared this functional connectivity during handwriting vs typewriting. They observed increased connectivity in frequency bands that have been linked to memory formation between central and parietal regions during handwriting, which suggests that it might engage brain regions important for learning more effectively than typewriting.

What makes handwriting so different from typing?

 So why does it matter so much? After all, don’t we have to process the information no matter if we write or type? It seems that a lot of the differences are because writing involves a plethora of varying hand motions to shape different letters which differ greatly from the simple act of typing on a keyboard. It takes greater control and focus to write out letters than it does to type, which is thought to lead to greater connectivity between motor, visual, and proprioceptive regions. Proprioceptive regions refer to our ability to estimate where various body parts are located and where they are moving to. In turn, the higher cognitive demands associated with writing might promote connectivity which supports our ability to learn and remember.

While typing sometimes seems much more convenient, keep in mind that the effort of handwriting our notes when studying for the next exam might be worth it!


Author: Elena
Buddy: Vivek
Editor: Helena
Translation: Maartje
Editor translation: Judith

Image Nick Morrison on Unsplash

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