Writing by Hand: Nourishes the Soul and the Brain

Our Kwan Yin journal featuring artwork by Duirwaigh Studios

Our Kwan Yin journal features artwork by Duirwaigh Studios

Last week we shared a couple of posts on our Facebook page about the benefits of writing by hand. WOW. We were surprised by the number of views. Something really resonated with our friends.

Human beings have long known and cherished the power of writing by hand to nurture the soul. Poets, scholars, authors, and educators the world over have historically shared their wisdom through writing. Many writers use journaling to capture ideas, dreams, sorrows, joys, and more. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron extolls the effectiveness and inspiration of “morning pages” —  hand writing 3 pages each morning — in removing creative blocks. The list of examples could go on.

In this digital age, when students take laptops to class and writers choose keyboards and tablets over pen and paper, researchers are curious to see how technology is affecting how we learn and retain information.

Here are a few excerpts from one of the articles we shared, originally posted by the Association for Psychological Science:

Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension

Dust off those Bic ballpoints and college-ruled notebooks — research shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Walk into any university lecture hall and you’re likely to see row upon row of students sitting behind glowing laptop screens. Laptops in class have been controversial, due mostly to the many opportunities for distraction that they provide (online shopping, browsing Reddit, or playing solitaire, just to name a few). But few studies have examined how effective laptops are for the students who diligently take notes.

“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.

Mueller and Oppenheimer, who is now at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted a series of studies to investigate whether their intuitions about laptop and longhand note-taking were true.

In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks covering topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, who watched the talks in small groups, were either given laptops (disconnected from Internet) or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes.

The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome.

The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test. Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.

So, like our Facebook friends, do these ideas resonate with you? Do you find joy in opening that new notebook or journal and imagining all that you can create and capture on paper?


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