B well read – well written

Did you know that handwriting is becoming extinct?write1

write2That’s kind of a no-brainer with typing & texting being the norm.  But apparently only handwriting primes the brain to respond to letters in a more literate way than typing or texting will.  Evidence suggests that writing with a keyboard doesn’t engage your brain the way writing with pen and paper does; it’s more detached and abstract.  That’s really bad news for me cause I’m left handed & writing is not only slow going but it’s also really messy.

So if you’re wondering where in the world I’m getting my information, it’s condensed from a recent article written (by hand no less) by Joanne Chen taken from the health section of “Martha Stewart Living.”  As it turns out there’s more to life than just food, fashion & decorating.  Read on (my comments in brackets)…

We’re in a rush to digitize everything, as if fast and efficient are always positive things,” says Anne Mangen, a postdoctoral fellow at Oslo and Akershus University, in Norway, who has written (I’m wondering by hand?) extensively on handwriting and the brain.  “It’s worrisome that there’s not enough awareness as to how movement can affect the mind” – whether it’s wielding a pen or thumbing through papers.  Electronic devices swallow up every last opportunity for us to write with pen and paper, from to-do list apps (I want you to know I write all my to-do lists by hand) to calendars.  Today, small children often know how to swipe a screen before they learn how to color (what a shame).  Which leads one to wonder how the demise of handwriting will affect the way they, we, and future generations think, communicate, and remember:  Will our brains ever be the same?

Michelle Dresbold
Michelle Dresbold

As easy as it is to mindlessly doodle your name, a lot actually happens in our brains as we write.  A 2012 study at Indiana University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare two groups of preschoolers – one having learned letters and symbols by typing, the other by handwriting.  The scans showed that the brains of the kids in the typing group didn’t distinguish between letters and shapes, but the brains of those in the handwriting group did.  In short, children who learn letters by printing may have an easier time learning to read.

Clinicians have long suggested that writing by hand – notes, diaries, lists – is helpful to those with memory loss.  In fact, when elderly subjects experiencing mind cognitive impairment took up Chinese calligraphy for eight weeks, their brain function improved, while those who didn’t got worse, according to a 2011 Clinical Interventions in Aging paper by Chinese researchers.

In short, when we write, we’re not only memorizing the letters on the paper but also the process and the experience of shaping them.  Handwriting involves more movement than typing.  What’s more, while word processing produces uniform letters on a screen that scrolls endlessly (and is way more legible than my handwriting), handwriting entails finite space and allows for variation in letter and word size and position.

As a result, you remember information not just because you’ve recorded the words, but also because once you have, you can envision where they’ve landed on the page and how big or small the text is.  Handwriting is a visual special activity which might explain why you remember appointments better when you pen them on a calendar that when you type them into a smartphone.

Handwriting, more than typing, requires us to engage in activities that promote creativity – like slowing down and reflecting which are worthwhile whether you’re mapping out a thank-you note, a novel, or a sales presentation.  Additionally, handwriting permits expression beyond a straight line, much like doodling, which, according to Sunni Brown, author of the forthcoming book, The Doodle Revolution (Penguin Portfolio), can “turn on” the neurological networks responsible for imagination and discovery. Not to mention it’s a great form of personalized self-expression, considering how distinctive (or elaborate, or architectural, or sloppy) our scrawls can be.

The author says “there’s something satisfying about the sight of so many words, the feel of paper thinned a bit from all that ink – and the realization that something so old-school can still be fast and efficient.  And I bet I remember most of what I wrote.”

On a further note:

Graphologists, who study and analyze handwriting say it’s because every stroke reveals a writer’s personality, mood, dislikes, and intent.  Here are some hidden meanings in written words:

What does your Handwriting Say About You?

this is me
this is me –  well it sounds good in writing!

Sentences that slope UP signal optimism; those that tilt down, depression, says Michelle Dresbold, author of Sex, Lies, and Handwriting (Free Press).

BIG characters suggest outgoingness, says Marc Seifer, author of “The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis” (Career Press).  Curvaceous ones reveal a sensual personality.

When letters slant RIGHT, the writer is emotionally effusive; left, she’s emotionally withdrawn, according to Dresbold.

Dots above the i’s and crosses for t’s that run into the next letters signal impatience; if they run to the left, the writer is prone to procrastination, says Dreshold.

I N T E R E S T I N G