Pen & paper or digital? Find out the best form of note-taking for memory

Pen & paper or digital? Find out the best form of note-taking for memory
Courtesy: Reuters

Using pen and paper stimulated more activity in the hippocampus – an area known to be important for memory and navigation.

In this digital and smartphone-dependent age, people are using pen and paper less and less often.

However, researchers from the University of Tokyo have proven the benefits of writing information down on physical paper – they have found it can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later, and believe that the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand is likely to be what helps improve 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," said Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, corresponding author and a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo.

"Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorise."

For the study, 48 volunteers aged between 18 and 29 years old read a fictional conversation about characters and their plans which included class times, due dates, and appointments and recorded down the information using a paper datebook and pen, a calendar app on a digital tablet and a stylus, or a calendar app on a large smartphone and a touch-screen keyboard. After an hour's break, they were given questions to test their memory of the schedule.

The volunteers who used analogue methods scored better than others on the simple test questions, and they were found to have more brain activity in areas associated with language, imaginary visualisation, and in the hippocampus – an area known to be important for memory and navigation.

Researchers state that the activation of the hippocampus indicates that analogue methods contain richer spatial details that can be recalled and navigated in the mind's eye.

"Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardised 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 visualise 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.

The researchers suggest personalising digital documents by highlighting, underlining, and adding sticky notes, for example, to mimic analogue-style note-taking and enhance memory.

(Cover Media/Reuters)

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