Despite the rapid pace of the digital age, it’s still too soon to toss the paper and pen. Actually, you may never want to writing for good – if you want to further develop your brain, that is.
“It sounds old-fashioned,” admits Kathleen Wright, a textbook publisher, “when you put forth the argument that you lose connection with the past. But then there’s also that scientific aspect of it. We don’t know what’s going to happen later on if you don’t teach children how to write on paper or how to write cursive.”
While there are undoubtedly benefits to teaching children typing skills, the shrinking time spent on cursive and even handwriting in school classrooms may have negative effects on children’s development. Cursive writing especially seems to have a unique, positive impact on brain development. Even adults have much to gain from setting pen to paper.
But What Makes Writing So Different from Typing?
The answer is fairly simple: it takes more brain power. Writing combines three brain processes and more strenuously exercises the brain.
- Visual: Seeing the writing.
- Motor: Using fine motor skills to move the pen or pencil against the paper to produce letters, characters, words, and sentences.
- Cognitive/perceptive: Drawing on memory to reproduce letters and form new ones.
Indiana University psychology professor Karin James put twelve four- and five-year olds into two groups, scanning their brains before and after either being taught to visually recognize letters or being taught to write letters. The children who wrote rather than simply remembering the letters had enormous activity spikes in the brain. Results were similar in a Japanese study at Chiba University by M. Naka, who found that first, third, and fifth grade Japanese children better learned pseudologographic characters and foreign letters better by writing than by looking only.
Health writers over at FYI Living summarized original peer-reviewed research and concluded that, because of the more strenuous motor skills involved in laboriously shaping a letter (as opposed to singular strikes to the keyboard), the integrative process itself improves brain function, composition and expression, and further attunement of fine motor skills.
When it comes to the brain, you can use it or lose it. Studies like M. J. Valenzuela’s at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney show that those of us who are more mentally active throughout our lives lower our risk of dementia and related diseases. Like our bodies, our minds too need regular exercise.