The Nuance

Bring Back Handwriting: It’s Good for Your Brain

People are losing the brain benefits of writing by hand as the practice becomes less common

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
4 min readSep 12, 2019

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

NNot so long ago, putting pen to paper was a fundamental feature of daily life. Journaling and diary-keeping were commonplace, and people exchanged handwritten letters with friends, loved ones, and business associates.

While longhand communication is more time-consuming and onerous, there’s evidence that people may in some cases lose out when they abandon writing for keyboard-generated text.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that “the writing cure,” which normally involves writing about one’s feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there’s evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

A commonly cited 1999 study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that writing about a stressful life experience by hand, as opposed to typing about it, led to higher levels of self-disclosure and translated to greater therapeutic benefits. It’s possible that these findings may not hold up among people today, many of whom grew up with computers and are more accustomed to expressing themselves via typed text. But experts who study handwriting say there’s reason to believe something is lost when people abandon the pen for the keyboard.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings.

“When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard…

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.