Writing by hand strengthens the learning process, says a new study. However, when typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired.
Associate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre asks if something is lost in switching from book to computer screen, and from pen to keyboard.
The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses, she explains. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper.
These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.
Together with neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille, Anne Mangen has written an article published in the Advances in Haptics periodical.
They have examined research, which goes a long way in confirming the significance of these differences.
An experiment carried out by Velay's research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard.
When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters.
This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.
Other experiments suggest that the brain's Brocas area is discernibly more activated when we are read a verb which is linked to a physical activity, compared with being read an abstract verb or a verb not associated with any action.
"This also happens when you observe someone doing something. You don't have to do anything yourself. Hearing about or watching some activity is often enough. It may even suffice to observe a familiar tool associated with a particular physical activity," Mangen says.
Since writing by hand takes longer than typing on a keyboard, the temporal aspect may also influence the learning process, she adds.