Screens in Schools and their Effect on the Brain

You may have read in the news lately about the banning of smartphones in schools. Did you know that research shows we learn more effectively when we write down information using pen and paper?  And how are our brains affected by e-learning?

Dr Steve Kassem, a neuroscientist specialising in brain mapping at NeuRA, explains how writing on paper and typing on an electronic device impacts our brains in different ways.


Do our brains work differently when we are working on paper rather than screens?

Yes, and there is a lot of research that shows this.  Importantly, we retain information better – both in terms of quantity and quality – when we write something down on paper when compared to typing.

Research has found that writing with pen and paper is more effective because we need to pay attention so much more, the pressure of the hand on paper, the spacing and font of our print, and so on, forcing our brain to consider and focus more deeply on what we are writing down.

By writing on paper, we engage our parietal cortex and somatosensory cortex. These are the parts of the brain associated with processing spatial awareness, directions, touch and movement. But when we take notes on a device, such as a laptop, it automatically controls these things for us meaning we don’t need to engage the same areas of our brain.

Some keyboards make a large tactile resistance and sound while typing. Interestingly, these features help engage the same parts of the brain as writing with a pen and paper and therefore should work a bit better in helping retain our information.


What about studying with distractions like TV and music?

There is research evidence that shows having the television on in the background can be distracting. On the other hand, research shows that particular types of non-lyrical music, like classical or heavy metals, may actually help people focus. However, we have not yet discovered whether music that is more lyrical, like pop music, is distracting or not.


What is the research around the impacts of smartphones in schools?

There is not a lot of definitive research showing whether there is an overwhelmingly positive or negative impact of using a touch screen when learning. There are some benefits, such as increasing fine motor movement in your hands and increased ability to pay attention under stress. But research has also shown that smartphones can negatively impact on social skills and the ability to communicate with people face-to-face.

We know that the best way to retain information is to physically write it down. So, the rise of e-learning, through the use of laptops and tablets, should be monitored by both students and teachers.

Ultimately, these electronic devices are here stay and banning them in schools may remove the opportunity for students to learn self-discipline and how they can use this technology in moderation.

One comment

  • Jason Potts

    Certainly mood affects it too in my personal experience. Sometimes the music and Tele helps. Some times not so. It’s the same with trying to sleep. Some times the silence is a distraction and infinitely noisy and others it’s not quite enough. For some reason atm I’ve found Jerry Seinfeld’s voice to be rly helpful to my sleep and also concentration. What’s that about?

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