Paper note taking may lead to more brain activity


An analysis of Japanese university students and recent graduates has demonstrated that writing on physical paper may lead to more brain activity when recalling the data an hour later. Researchers say the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information connected with composing by hand on physical paper is probably what contributes to enhanced 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,”¬†explained Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo and corresponding author of the study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The research was completed with collaborators in the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting.

Contrary to the popular belief that electronic tools increase efficacy, volunteers who used paper completed the note-taking job about 25% faster than those who used digital tablets or smartphones.

Although volunteers composed by hand with pencil and paper or stylus and electronic tablet, researchers say paper tablets contain more complicated spatial information than electronic tablets. Physical paper allows for concrete permanence, irregular strokes, and uneven shape, such as folded corners. By comparison, digital tablets are uniform, does not have any fixed position when scrolling, and disappears when you close the program.

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

From the study, a total of 48 volunteers read a literary conversation between characters discussing their plans for 2 weeks in the near future, including 14 different class times, assignment due dates and individual appointments. Researchers performed pre-test investigations to ensure that the volunteers, all 18-29 years old and recruited from college campuses or NTT offices, were sorted into three groups based on memory abilities, personal taste for digital or analog methods, gender, age and other aspects.

Volunteers then listed the fictional schedule using a paper datebook and pencil, a calendar app on a digital tablet and a stylus, or even a calendar program on a sizable smartphone and a touchscreen keyboard. There was no time limit and volunteers were requested to record the fictional events in the exact same manner as they would for their real-life programs, without spending additional time to memorize the program.

After one hour, such as a break and an interference endeavor to distract them from thinking about the calendar, volunteers answered a range of easy (When is the assignment due?) And complex (Which is the sooner due date for those assignments?) Multiple choice questions to check their memory of this program. While they completed the evaluation, volunteers were within a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, which measures blood circulation around the brain. This is a technique called functional MRI (fMRI), and enhanced blood flow observed in a particular region of the brain is a indication of enhanced neuronal activity in that region.

Participants who used a paper datebook filled in the calendar within about 11 minutes. Tablet users took 14 minutes and smartphone users took about 16 minutes. Volunteers who used analog methods within their personal life were as slow at using the devices as volunteers who regularly use digital tools, therefore researchers are convinced that the difference in speed was related to memorization or associated encoding from the brain, not only differences in the habitual usage of the tools.

Volunteers who employed analog methods scored better than other volunteers only on simple test queries. However, researchers say that the brain stimulation data showed significant differences.

Volunteers who used paper had more brain activity in regions associated with language, imaginary visualization, and at the hippocampus — a region known to be important for memory and navigation. Researchers say that the stimulation of the hippocampus suggests that analog methods contain richer spatial details which may be remembered and navigated from the mind’s eye.

“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,” Sakai explained.

Researchers state that personalizing electronic documents by highlighting, underlining, circling, drawing arrows, handwriting color-coded notes from the margins, adding virtual sticky notes, or other varieties of special mark-ups can mimic analog-style spatial enrichment that may enhance memory.

Although they have no data from younger volunteers, researchers suspect the difference in brain activation between digital and analog methods is very likely to be stronger in younger individuals.

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

Although the current study focused on learning and memorization, The researchers encourage using paper for creative pursuits as well.

“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,” said Sakai.

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