We’re on our computers and smartphones so often these days that it’s rare that we write something by hand, but a new study from the University of Tokyo suggests that writing information by hand is better than typing when it comes to retention and memory.
In the study, 48 participants were asked to take notes about a scheduling conversation, including class times, course information, and specific dates. Some of the subjects used paper and pen while others typed on tablets.
Later, when asked to recall specific details from the conversation during an MRI scan, researchers found that those who wrote by hand remembered the information more accurately and also had higher brain activity in regions associated with language, memory, navigation, and visualization. Surprisingly, those who took notes by hand were also able to record the necessary information faster than their typing counterparts.
The researchers explain that handwritten notes are better for information retention because the process provides multiple physical cues, like the shape of letters, the feel of the pen, ink color, and the location of your notes on a page, to trigger memories and recall details later on.
Coauthor Kuniyoshi Sakai says, “Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for the information you need to learn or memorize.” However, the researchers do note that if you are using digital mediums, using a stylus that allows you to still take handwritten notes or using unique spatial cues like virtual sticky notes and multicolored text can help you reap some of those same tactile benefits in digital form.