Posted by: ugleepen | May 23, 2013

Can Handwriting Help Train the Brain?

ugleepen - brainUsing advanced tools such as MRIs researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate, writes journalist Gwendolyn Bounds in the Wall Street Journal.

Studies, says Bounds, suggest there’s real value in learning and maintaining this skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards.

The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development. 

It’s not just children who benefit. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. For instance, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, adults were asked to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them, after producing the characters using pen-and-paper writing and a computer keyboard.

The result: For those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters’ proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes.

Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says 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.

Even in the digital age, people remain enthralled by handwriting for myriad reasons—the intimacy implied by a loved one’s script, or what the slant and shape of letters might reveal about personality.

Some doctors treating neurological disorders say handwriting can be an early diagnostic tool.

“As more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise,” says P. Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist at Duke University.

In high schools, where laptops are increasingly used, handwriting still matters. In the essay section of SAT college-entrance exams, scorers unable to read a student’s writing can assign that portion an “illegible” score of 0.

Even legible handwriting that’s messy can have its own ramifications, says Steve Graham, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.”

“You still need to be able to write, and someone needs to be able to read it.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

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