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October 05, 2010

Interesting Studies

On memory and the self reference effect:

Birthdays are easier to remember the closer they are to your own, according to a study in Psychological Science. In one of three experiments, researchers told 225 college students to write the names of 10 friends on paper. Then they asked the students to add any of these friends' birthdays (the month and day, but not the year) that they could recall. Finally, the students searched social-networking websites and personal calendars to find the forgotten birthdays.

The remembered birthdays were an average of 79 days away from the subject's own birthday, while the forgotten birthdays were an average of 98 days away. The phenomenon is an example of the "self-reference effect" in memory, which makes memories easier to retrieve the more closely you can relate to them, the researchers said.

And on the link between motor activity and learning/thinking:

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a "spaceship," actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called "functional" MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters.

"It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time," says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

....Other research highlights the hand's unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

When I first started blogging, I found it extremely difficult to write using a keyboard - all the way through school I wrote out essays and papers longhand and only typed them up later.

Over the years I've finally gotten used to using a keyboard but I suspect it's more of an adaptation than an even swap. On the one hand, typing is great for me because I write very slowly. But on the other, having that limiting constraint in place seems to help me think through things more thoroughly.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at October 5, 2010 08:24 AM

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"It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time," says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

"First, tell the student, then show the student, then have the student do."

That's been an effective teaching method since forever -- and the "researchers" have suddenly discovered that *now*?

Posted by: BillT at October 5, 2010 10:58 AM

Since at least the mid-80s, I've been writing large volumes of text nearly every day by typing it into a computer. In that time, my handwriting, which never was very good, has degenerated to a scrawl. I think I've forgotten what it was like to construct a paragraph in handwriting, so I'm no longer able to make a comparison.

But other kinds of handwork still evoke a strong mental response. I do a lot of crafts, especially crochet, often while watching a movie or listening to a book on tape. Afterwards, the finished pattern vividly evokes all kinds of detail about the movie or book.

Posted by: Texan99 at October 5, 2010 12:36 PM

Interesting. I'm involved in a program which requires a lot of self-exploration type writing. I firmly believe I do better at this - dig more deeply, find more unsuspected avenues to pursue, write more from the gut than the brain (yes, a rather gooey metaphor but I can't think of another) - if I do it by hand. When I do it by keyboard, I'm more likely to be regurgitating what I'm already convinced is the right thing to say.

On the other hand, I find the keyboard better for strictly intellectual writing because I can type far faster than I can write so typing helps me keep up with ideas that my brain throws up along the way. It's much the same way that I became a better and faster programmer when I stopped hand-writing programs to be punched and started typing programs in directly: I could quickly accommodate interactions as they came up. So I'd be interested to know the subject matter of the essays the children were writing when they did better by hand than by keyboard.

On the third hand, writing by hand is far more helpful than typing in my Italian lessons. So perhaps there's a connection between writing by hand and learning a new subject.

And I have to agree with Texan99: now that I type so much, my already awful handwriting has gone totally to pot. Furthermore, I - the spelling bee champion of my high school (although felled early by stage-terror at the county level) - have trouble spelling "cat" unless I'm spotted the "c" and the "a".

Posted by: Elise at October 5, 2010 03:07 PM

Handwriting was always slow and low in endurance for me. Including the self-corrections, compared to typing. It simply flows faster, although hard to say whether it flows better.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 5, 2010 07:56 PM