According to a new study if you are revising for a big test, it is better to grab a pen and paper than your laptop or tablet.
Taking notes on paper helps our brains to remember information better than on tablet or smartphone, the study has found.
Researchers from Japan asked 48 students to take down the details of a person’s schedule using either pen and paper, a tablet or a smartphone.
They found that those who wrote the information in a notebook were able to record all the details faster than those who used an electronic device.
Recalling the details in a brain scanner later, those who took written notes exhibited more activity in regions of their brain related to memory, language and navigation.
According to the team, writing with paper involves unique, complex spatial and tactile information that provides the brain with more information to trigger memory.
‘Paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,’ said study author and neuroscientist Kuniyoshi Sakai of the University of Tokyo.
‘Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize,’ he explained.
In their study, the team recruited 48 student volunteers, all between the ages of 18–29, who were equally sorted into three groups based on their memory capabilities, gender, age, preference for digital or analogue media/writing and other factors.
Each participant was instructed to read a fictional conversation between characters discussing their plans in the near future — including 14 different personal appointments, class times and assignment deadline dates.
The volunteers recorded this schedule using either paper and pen, a tablet with a stylus or a smartphone with a touchscreen interface. They were not asked to memorise the events.
After an hour — which included a break and an unrelated task to distract them from thinking about the calendar, the participants were placed in an MRI machine and given a brain scan while they answered various questions about the schedule.
The team found that participants who used a paper datebook to write down the fictional schedule did so faster — in 11 minutes, rather than the 14 it took tablet users and the 16 it took smartphone users.
Those who regularly use devices in their personal life were just as slow at entering the data as those that prefer analogue tools — which the team said suggests the speed difference was related to memorisation and encoding of the data in the brain.
In the question portion of the experiment, those who used pen and paper were only found to score better than the other volunteers on the simple test questions.
However, the team said, those who used paper were found to exhibit more brain activity on recalling the schedule in those areas of the brain that are associated with language, imaginary visualization, memory and navigation.
The researchers said that the activity of the hippocampus in particular indicates that using pen and paper may allow people to capture richer spatial details that can later be recalled and navigated in the mind’s eye.
‘Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage,’ explained Professor Sakai.
‘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.’
Given this, the team added, one may potentially be able to improve the recollection of notes recorded digitally by adding unique markups — such as highlighting, underlining, circling or adding arrows — the mimic written note taking practices.
While the current study focussed on learning and recollection, the researchers said that they would encourage the use of paper for other creative pursuits as well.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.