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How Cursive Writing Uniquely Helps Brain Development

Lisa Garber
January 16th, 2013
Updated 01/16/2013 at 1:42 am
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cursivewriting 265x165 How Cursive Writing Uniquely Helps Brain DevelopmentIn an age of keyboards and touch-screens, some might argue that teaching cursive is a vestigial nicety in today’s classrooms. Even handwriting, much less cursive writing, is neglected in the national curriculum guidelines supported by 45 states at the end of 2012.

Many educators and scientists, however, are railing against the trend.

“It might be fine,” says Indiana University psychology professor Karin James, referring to the option of not teaching handwriting in school, “but we don’t know that. And the research is pointing to that it might not be fine; you might be setting up a child’s brain to interpret letters and words in a very different way.”

James herself conducted an experiment in which she scanned the brains of four- and five-year olds before and after half of them had been taught to visually recognize chosen letters and the other half had been taught to write them. After four weeks, brain scans showed that the minds in the second group had enormous spikes in activity in the reading network.

“Typing seems to be different than handwriting,” she says. “You’re actually creating those forms with your hands. That seems to be making a difference.”

Cursive Writing Uniquely Helps Brain Development

These are not surprising results, as certain physical activities naturally spark various areas of the brain  But they still point to the benefits of handwriting that are missing from typing skills alone. Take, for example, the research of Virginia Berninger, an educational psychology professor at the University of Washington. Berninger claims that because handwriting necessitates physical sequential strokes to form just one letter (as opposed to a single strike in hitting a single key), massive regions in the brain are activated, including areas of thinking, language, and temporary information storage and management. In one of her studies, she demonstrates that children in grades two, four, and six were able to write more words faster and express more ideas when writing essays by hand rather than the keyboard.

What’s more, writing in general helps build important neural pathways in the brain, helping you to better remember whatever you were recording. This is not the case with typing.

Andrea Gordon, writing for ParentCentral in the Toronto Star, writes on cursive writing’s impact on neurological development. Citing the research of Toronto psychiatrist and neuroplasticity expert Dr. Norman Doidge, she says that cursive writing is unique in that, unlike with print handwriting and typing, each letter connects uniquely to the next  This is “more demanding on the part of the brain that converts symbol sequences into motor movements in the hand.” Gordon further ties cursive to emotional circuitry according to Dr. Jason Barton’s research at the University of British Columbia.

“His studies…show that while the left visual word form area perceives and decodes words for their meaning in written language, the right side is where we interpret the style of writing, allowing us to identify the writer rather than the word, just as neighboring areas in the right brain play a key role in allowing us to recognize faces.  …  It activates a memory trace…and fans out, setting off other sensory memories.”

There is even a case for teaching cursive in the classroom before teaching print handwriting. As younger children yet unable to control their fingers in finer movements, cursive—a fluid style of writing compared to the hiccups in print—can act as a building block rather than a stressor in the educational process. Aggressive teaching tactics can, indeed, cause children to develop low self-esteem and even stunt their emotional and academic growth.

Related Read: Meditation Affects Brain Development for Weeks

Not all values in the past are relevant to modern living. Not all new things are threats to old values. A happy marriage of the two—both cursive writing and print handwriting and typing lessons in the classroom—might produce the healthiest outcome for today’s and future generations.

Additional Sources:

USA Today


From around the web:

  • I-speak-for-doug

    “Unless I missed something, the study didn’t have any implications for
    cursive. It just talked about writing — so, as I understand the Indiana
    curriculum change; they’ll still teach writing just not in the form of
    cursive.” -doug

    • Michael Lemuel

      I’m with you. Handwriting GREAT keep teaching it, not everything is digital, but where is the study that cursive is so great? A friend of mine says cursive requirements made it hard to learn english while fighting his dyslexia (sp?). If some kids learn cursive easier FINE go ahead and see if it helps them, but why make cursive a requirement anymore?

      Better yet, why don’t we use our current knowledge of organizations, mathmatics, and neuro-psychology to develope the easiest and most natural language we can conceive? Base it in logic, Dewey Decimal style organization, and natural flow (hopefully for both right and left handers).

  • DavidAyer

    Prof. Karin Jones says evidence in favour of teaching cursive is inconclusive – despite how some of her studies have been interpreted by proponents of it. Many prefer it for journaling – David Foster Wallace said he always wrote longhand because it actually slowed him down somewhat, thus allowing his prose to come out more ordered.

  • Coursework Help

    How it can develop the brain?

  • C. Givler

    Americans focus much more on pragmatism than on more holistic and critical thinking/intuitive aspects of intelligence and problem solving. Education for the life of the mind in order to produce a certain kind of person with particular kinds of thinking (liberal arts, humanities, philosophy, theology, history, language, etc.) appears to be antiquated and not "useful" for the 21st century and beyond. This kind of anti-intellectualism and narrow-minded thinking will end up producing a populace incapable of creative and critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to make vital national decisions in the context of a wide conceptual base necessary for deep understanding of problems, situations, variables, and solutions. Cursive writing contributes to brain development related to thinking, conceptualizing, and creativity. Research studies on the benefits/values of cursive writing. The author of this article cites several studies. And you can investigate the Educational Summit "Handwriting in The 21st Century" held in Washington, D. C. on January 23, 2012 &lt ;> for more information.

  • John Ashton Jr

    Wouldn't teaching cusive handwriting help to develope the whole brain, left and right ?

  • Bradley Keyes

    And in a previous age you could hear the cries of "This parchment and paper thing is too easy. Chiselling each letter into the stone builds focus and muscles. The child must think carefully and strike cleanly – mistakes are not an option. Clearly this new technology will make our children weak in both mind and body."

  • bertie

    Strange to think how much more joy i get from making a component and fitting it to my car, than just going out and buying a new one – my god to think that we really "need " this kind of research is truly sad.
    Life is about taking it in your own hands and creating your world – is it really possible that people think this cannot be done without microsoft????

  • Halina Roslycky

    Where was the research done?