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You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

You Will Remember Information Longer if you Hand Write Notes

Have you written your to do list for to-day? Did you hand write it or did you use a digital post it on your desktop? The good news is that if you wrote it by hand in the good old fashioned way, you are more likely to remember it. If you used your keyboard for the digital version, this is not so effective for retention. Let us look at the scientific evidence for this and what exactly happens in the brain when we hand write.

The benefits of handwriting.

A friend of mine is learning Japanese and he patiently copies each character out hundreds of times in long columns. This helps him to remember them. Studies suggest that there are other benefits of handwriting as well.

Children can learn to write and remember the letters while doing so. This can improve their ability to form ideas which will then lead to more effective communication. It is an effective way of training the brain. Educationalists still insist that handwriting should be taught in schools. But in 2014 there are plans in 45 American states to drop the teaching of handwriting in favour of keyboard skills. Digital writing is great for our technological age but what are kids missing out on?

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This is what worries researchers such as Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay who have been leading research on this at the University of Stavanger in Norway at the The National Centre for Reading Education and Research.

Because the whole process of writing involves visual perception and motor function which are inextricably linked, this activity cannot be ignored in educating children to write. Their research on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data showed that more areas of the brain were activated when handwriting.

One experiment done by Mangen involved two groups of adults who were given the task of learning a new alphabet which had just 20 letters. The first group was instructed in how to write these characters by hand. The second group was taught by using a keyboard. When the groups were tested after a six week period, the handwriting group were scoring much better on how they remembered the letters. This would seem to suggest that handwriting beats keyboarding for memory retention.

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What happens in the handwriting process?

“How utterly bound to the physical world of bodies is writing, one of the awesome products of the human mind.” – Haas 1998

When you start writing with a pen, a complex process starts in the brain. It has been shown that a part of the brain called the RAS (reticular activating system) is stimulated and will also act as a filter to help you focus and get the task done.

You have to learn how to hold the pen, then think of the letters and how they are formed and also how they are joined up in cursive writing. There are complex motor and visual functions at work here.

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At higher levels, you are using the brain to transfer knowledge in a meaningful fashion, not to mention how to activate the information for memory retention. Hitting two different letters on a keyboard is not activating the brain in the same way at all. You are also getting feedback on another medium, the screen, so there is a different process involved.

Taking notes in lectures.

It has been estimated that only about two-thirds of students take notes in class. This is an important memory tool for learning afterwards. When we listen to a lecture, we are likely to remember only about 10 percent of the information. Note taking by hand is laborious, whereas typing the information on a laptop keyboard is faster. As Walter Pauk, the director of the reading and study center at Cornell University suggests in his book, “How to Study in College,” you should write out your notes afterwards by hand as this will be a definite help in the learning and memory process. Study the infographic here

Using handwriting to help your memory

As we have seen, handwriting will help our memory retention more than hours of typing on a keyboard. Depending on your learning style, you may find some of the techniques useful.

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1. Write it down again and again. Repetition of the process will reinforce your learning.
2. Increase your memory by as much as 70 percent when you go through your notes within 24 hours.
3. If you are a morning person, aim to refresh difficult material early on, as your brain is less tired.
4. Reading and re-reading material is likely to result in a disappointing 20 percent retention.
5. Use mind maps if they help you to remember facts. This is an excellent way of visualizing how various bits of information fit into a concept/plan. They are also more fun to create than simple notes.

Will apps save the day?

The best news of all is that handwriting is far from finished. There are now apps for iPhones on the market to help kids and adults with their handwriting. Kids can use either a finger or stylus to practise forming letters and then words. Adults can use apps where any handwriting input, again using a finger or stylus, is accepted and then converted into email, documents or tweets.

Tell us in the comments below whether you prefer good old fashioned handwriting or do you prefer more digital input to help you remember your shopping list. Now, where did I save that digital post it?

Featured photo credit: Penmanship/ KP Werker via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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