MONDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- As keyboards increasingly
replace pens, new research cautions that the switch may come with
an unforeseen price: the loss of critical brain activity central to
learning that is uniquely tied to the old-fashioned act of
The concern stems from the results of a number of experiments
recently reviewed by a pair of researchers in France and Norway,
who concluded that writing by hand is actually a very different
sensory experience than typing on a keyboard, with each activating
distinctly different parts of the brain.
"Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us," co-author associate professor Anne Mangen from the University of Stavangers Reading Centre in Stavanger, Norway, said in a university news release. "We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects -- be it a book, a keyboard or a pen -- to perform certain tasks."
This is evidenced, she said, in tests that reveal that the act
of handwriting -- literally the feeling of touching a pen to paper
-- appears to imprint a "motor memory" in the sensorimotor region
of the brain.
In turn, this process promotes the visual recognition of letters
and words, suggesting that the two seemingly separate acts of
reading and writing are, in fact, linked, Mangen explained.
Mangen and colleague Jean-Luc Velay of the University of
Marseille together reported their observations in the journal
Advances in Haptics.
Haptics, the team explained, is a term that references the sense
of touch and the integral role it plays in aiding people's ability
to communicate and explore their surroundings, both actively and
passively, particularly with regards to the use of the fingers and
Focusing on the role haptics plays in the ergonomics of both
reading and writing, the authors discuss the findings of a study in
which two groups of adults were asked to learn a previously unknown
Those who studied the alphabet by writing the letters out by
hand performed better on all subsequent recall tests than those who
studied solely on computers, the investigators found.
What's more, brain scans revealed that while learning by
handwriting prompted activity in a particular part of the brain
known as Broca's area, learning by keyboarding prompted little or
no such activity.
The authors also pointed to another basic reason why writing may
facilitate learning more readily than keyboarding: handwriting
simply takes more time.
For more on brain function, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.