How Important is Writing on Paper?

Writing something down on paper is a better way of being able to commit it to memory than if you merely document it digitally.

While schools move increasingly away from written work and all of us become more reliant on using digital devices, researchers in Japan have shown  that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” said Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo.

In the study volunteers who used paper had more brain activity in areas associated with language, imaginary visualization, and in the hippocampus — an area known to be important for memory and navigation.

Researchers say that the activation of the hippocampus indicates that analog methods contain richer spatial details that can be recalled and navigated in the mind’s eye.

Professor Sakai explained:

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

“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains.

“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.

“For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.

“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”

So while politicians promise lap tops and digital devices to pupils and students at school – all very important in order to access information especially during periods of not being able to leave home or attend education – these devices cannot replace the important role of writing and recording by using pen,paper, ink or paint.

The study was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

2 replies »

  1. That’s pretty interesting. Am also curious how journalling comes into play, as it doesn’t involve learning, yet is using the medium of pen on paper. Thanks for this post!

  2. Hmmmm…the first thing that came to mind is the fact that I write letters which really matter, on paper – letters which are to connect or re-connect with someone in a ‘real’ way – reaching out to them – person to person.

    The next was – I mostly write my stuff for The Orkney News in a notebook first – then type it up. Getting the thoughts and memories down that way works better, for me, than faced with a screen.
    I get through a lot of notebooks!

    Having pen in hand and paper in front of me, definitely helps my brain to work through things, and work in a certain way which a computer screen just – doesn’t.
    Might be a generational thing – I am an old person – or maybe as described in the article, it goes deeper than that

Leave a Reply