Umejima et al (2021) carried out a study of Japanese university students to look at whether it is better to take notes by hand or on a computer. Researchers say that the complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper may lead to improved memory.
Forty-eight volunteers, ages 18 - 29 years old, were recruited from university campuses. The researchers allocated participants to three groups, matching participants for memory skills, personal preference for digital or analog methods, gender, and age.
Participants read a fictional conversation between characters discussing their plans for two months in the near future, including different class times, assignment due dates, and personal appointments. They were asked to take notes on the fictional schedule using a paper datebook and pen, a calendar app on a digital tablet and a stylus, or a calendar app on a large smartphone. There was no time limit and volunteers were asked to record the fictional events in the same way as they would for their real-life schedules.
Volunteers who used paper completed the note-taking task about 25% faster than those who used digital tablets or smartphones.
After one hour, including a break and a task to distract them from thinking about the calendar, volunteers answered a range of multiple-choice questions to test their memory of the schedule. They completed the test inside an fMRI scanner.
Volunteers who used paper scored higher on factual questions about the schedules compared to the digital group. In addition, they had more brain activity in the hippocampus which may indicate that taking notes by hand allows for richer spatial details that can be recalled more easily.