Writing on paper, instead of tablet or smart phone, boosts brain activity

Analog writing enhances brain activity during learning and memorization, according to a new study. Photo by Free-Photos/Pixabay
Analog writing enhances brain activity during learning and memorization, according to a new study. Photo by Free-Photos/Pixabay

March 19 (UPI) -- Writing on paper, instead of on a tablet or smart phone, boosted the brain activity of a group of Japanese university students when they tried to recall information they'd learned an hour earlier.

Researchers detailed paper's brain-boosting powers in a new study, published Friday in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.


"Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall," study co-author Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Tokyo, said in a press release.

In addition to aiding memory formation and recall, writing on paper is also more efficient. During the study, volunteers using paper completed their learning task 25 percent faster than the university students using tablets and smart phones.

For the study, researchers recruited 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between characters discussing their plans for the weeks ahead: their class schedule, assignment due dates and personal appointments.

Prior to the reading assignment, researchers sorted the volunteers into three groups based on their memory abilities and preference for digital or analog writing methods, as well as demographic data like gender and age.


While reading the fictional conversation, students used a calendar to record the dates and times discussed by the two characters. Some used a paper calendar and a pen or pencil, while others wrote on a digital calendar using an electronic stylus.

After an hour break, during which the volunteers were distracted by an unrelated task, the students were put in an MRI machine and asked questions about the dates and times they had recorded during the reading and writing task.

The brains of students who used analog methods for recording featured higher levels of brain activity in the hippocampus, as well as in the regions of the brain responsible for language and imaginary visualization. They also scored better on simple memory recall questions.

Researchers suspect paper offers more complex spatial information and tactile feedback, enhancing brain activity and boosting the memory formation process.

"Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage," Sakai said.

"But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin," Sakai said.


Researchers estimate the neurological advantages of paper are even greater for younger students.

"High school students' brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains," said Sakai.

As well, the study's authors suggest the advantages are likely useful for creative activities, not just memorization.

"It is reasonable that one's creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory," Sakai said. "For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods."

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