Research: Pen is mightier than the keyboard

New research has identified differences in brain activity when people take notes by typing on a keyboard versus using a pen.

Previous studies had suggested that long-hand note taking with a pen deepens the mind’s ability to retain and process information. To test this further, cognitive neuropsychologists Audrey van der Meer and Ruud van der Weel carried out a two-month research project with students.

Resembling something from a science-fiction movie, the researchers hooked students up to more than 250 sensors that monitored their brain signals, as they completed tasks involving typing and note-taking by hand.

The results are the first electrophysiological evidence that the brain behaves differently when someone writes or draws with a pen compared with typing. The researchers concluded that rich sensory-motor experiences seem to facilitate learning. In other words, the physical movement of the pen makes the difference. The movement is picked up by the senses and, due to their involvement, results in different neural activity that governs all higher levels of cognitive processing and learning.

Van der Meer explains that “this difference in activity is really significant. It tells us that using a pen to take notes means that the brain is able to process learning in a much more effective way.”

As the research findings outline, the pen has significant potential to enrich our learning and, therefore, has a place in education today, but not necessarily at the expense of our digital devices. Van der Meer points to tablet and hybrid devices that allow the use of a pen or stylus to help students to get the most out of ancient and modern technologies.

To learn more, visit Microsoft News Centre Europe.

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