Writing by Hand Helps the Brain

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Back away from the iPad. Those Luddites who make a point of writing with pen and paper may be onto something, suggests Gwendolyn Bounds in The Wall Street Journal:

Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

And this doesn't just hold true for children, either: "some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age." It even seems that writing by hand even has an effect on the way we think. In one study, children who practiced handwriting showed "enhanced" and "adult-like" neural activity. Meanwhile, educational psychology prfoessor Virginia Berninger tells Bounds that "pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory--the system for temporarily storing and managing information."

Or, in other words, scientists are finally beginning to explore what writers have long suspected. The following is from a Paris Review interview with novelist Robert Stone, published in 1985:


You mostly type?


Yes, until something becomes elusive. Then I write in longhand in order to be precise. On a typewriter or word processor you can rush something that shouldn't be rushed--you can lose nuance, richness, lucidity. The pen compels lucidity.

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