*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert!
A study of Japanese university students and recent graduates has revealed that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. Researchers say that the unique, complex, spatial, and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory.
“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 and corresponding author of the research recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The research was completed with collaborators from the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting.
Contrary to the popular belief that digital tools increase efficiency, volunteers who used paper completed the note-taking task about 25% faster than those who used digital tablets or smartphones.
Although volunteers wrote by hand both with pen and paper or stylus and digital tablet, researchers say paper notebooks contain more complex spatial information than digital paper. Physical paper allows for tangible permanence, irregular strokes, and uneven shape, like folded corners. In contrast, digital paper is uniform, has no fixed position when scrolling, and disappears when you close the app.
“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize,” said Sakai.
In the study, a total of 48 volunteers read a fictional conversation between characters discussing their plans for two months in the near future, including 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and personal appointments.
Volunteers then recorded the fictional schedule using a paper datebook and pen, a calendar app on a digital tablet and a stylus, or a calendar app on a large smartphone and a touch-screen keyboard.
After one hour, including a break and an interference task to distract them from thinking about the calendar, volunteers answered a range of simple and complex multiple-choice questions to test their memory of the schedule.
Volunteers who used analog methods scored better than other volunteers only on simple test questions. However, researchers say that the brain activation data revealed significant differences.
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.