Most of us use our keypads for everything from writing grocery lists to typing emails. But a new study out of Norway shows that writing by hand rather than typing, boosts our overall brain activity, improves our spelling accuracy and our memory.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology collected EEG readings from 36 university students as they wrote by hand or used a keyboard. An EEG, or electroencephalogram, registers and records brain activity. It's a painless test that uses small sensors to pick up electrical signals produced by the brain.

The findings were unequivocal: The connectivity of different brain regions increased when the participants wrote by hand, but not when they typed.

High density EEGs measured the electrical activity of the students’ brains using 256 tiny sensors that were sewn into a net and placed over their heads. For each prompt, their brain activity was recorded for five seconds.

The university students were prompted to either write or type a word that appeared on a screen. When they were writing by hand, they used a digital pen in order to write cursive directly onto the touchscreen. When they were typing, they used a single finger to press the keys on the keyboard.

The findings were unequivocal: The connectivity of different brain regions increased when the participants wrote by hand, but not when they typed.

“Our findings suggest that visual and movement information obtained through precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning,” Audrey van der Meer, a brain researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

Although the students did not use a conventional pen or write on paper, the researchers are confident that the results would be similar if they had used a traditional pen. That’s because the differences in brain activity are due to the careful forming of letters that are needed when writing by hand, which makes much more use of the senses.

“Such widespread brain connectivity is known to be crucial for memory formation and for encoding new information, and therefore is beneficial for learning,” van der Meer said.

On the other hand, it’s less stimulating for the brain to hit a key.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that students should be allowed to use pens and hand write during a class, rather than type their notes and be given at least minimum handwriting instruction.

Even though the study shows that handwriting ultimately improves recall and learning, the researchers acknowledge there are plenty of benefits to technology and recommend the use of the keyboard for long essays and texts.

The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.