Science Reveals Something Surprising About People Who Take Notes by Hand

Science Reveals Something Surprising About People Who Take Notes by Hand
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The news: As computers and smartphones become more and more pervasive, good handwriting might seem like something of a lost art. But for those old-fashioned people out there who prefer to write by hand, there's good news: You're probably understanding and retaining information better than the people hiding behind laptop screens.

In a study published earlier this year in Psychological Science, researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that while computers might help you write more notes quickly, they might keep you from actually absorbing the information you write, even when you're not switching between tabs to check your email or scroll through Facebook.

"Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance," lead author Pam Mueller of Princeton University said in a statement.

Why do hand-writers have an advantage? For the study, researchers asked students to watch TED Talks and take notes either by hand or on a computer disconnected from the Internet. After completing distraction tests, the students were then asked to take quizzes on the material covered in the TED Talks. While students in both groups did equally well when it came to factual questions, those who took handwritten notes had a much better conceptual understanding of the material.

"It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently," the researchers wrote.

So while computers allow you to write down every word that comes out of your professor's mouth, they won't necessarily help you synthesize and digest what's being said, whereas hand-writers intrinsically understand what is actually important and needs to be remembered. And that can help you make better use of your knowledge in the long run.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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