People tend to type faster than they can write notes by hand. Strangely, this is why you should trade your laptop for a pen and pad if you want to remember what someone is saying.
A new study published in Psychological Science shows why. Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA asked two groups of students to take notes while watching TED Talks. Some were given laptops, others a pen and paper. They watched the talks, and then, about half an hour later, they were quizzed on the content.
“For strictly factual questions, the note-taking method didn’t seem to matter,” American Scholar reports. “But for more conceptual questions — ‘How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?’ — the typists remembered fewer correct responses than the scribblers.”
A follow-up experiment confirmed the findings. A full week after watching the videos, students were quizzed on the content. Again, the hand-writers outperformed the typists in recall tests.
Why? When you’re typing everything down quickly, you end up spending less time with each piece of information. If you’re writing everything that the speaker says, then you don’t actually have to think about what they’re saying. But if you’re only writing selections of their speech, you have to attend to the most important points and get those down on paper.
Since the handwriting slows you down, you spend more time thinking carefully about what the speaker is saying, which
leads to better recall of the information.
Another Princeton study came to a similar conclusion. It found that hard-to-read fonts (your Comic Sans, Gothic, and the like) actually lead to greater retention. When the text is more difficult to read, the authors argue, you’re subsequently forced to spend more time with each piece of information.
The business takeaway: When you’re viewing a presentation, attending a meeting, or talking to a potential hire, keep your pen in hand — and only write down the most important points.
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