Penmanship, Through the Looking Glass

Cursive handwriting is, I submit, linked significantly to the human brain. Logic might indicate that it is simply a pattern reflecting thought unique to a particular brain but my own experience leads me to conclude that handwriting is a complete feedback loop. In other words, instruction in and practice with handwriting can influence psychology, and not just the reverse.

carrieparryThat probably sounds a little nutty, but there is evidence. Observing my own writing in my youth I noticed how it progressed from juvenile to mature through my teens and into my twenties. As I grew in confidence, so did my handwriting, with the greatest changes occurring during my twenties, and by the time it stabilized I noticed another thing. My cursive script was nearly identical to my mother’s! (This happened of course when people still wrote letters to one another.) Clearly there is a strong genetic link to this.

When our identical twin sons went to college, their hands were still pretty juvenile as well (but not at all identical). I mentioned to them my idea of the feedback loop and suggested that they should practice their scripts in a way so as to project more confidence, particularly in their signatures. They did and the differences over a couple of years were striking. There’s no way to prove that this worked of course, but I’m convinced that it did.  If handwriting is the mirror of the personality, is the personality affected when that outlet is removed?

Human brain - midsagittal cut

Human brain – midsagittal cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This also leads me to wonder whether declining education in cursive writing might be leaving a deficit in both personality-building and general learning ability. I think the decline of rote learning may be having a similar effect, as in the memorization of historical and geographic facts and arithmetic operations for example. Rote learning, it seems to me, builds important fodder for brain activity that also has a feed-back effect. Could this be a factor in the decline of the quality of education? I for one think so.

I was prompted to write on this subject by the musings of my Canadian blogging colleague at Archon’s Den.  He provides an entertaining view of it at this link.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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14 Responses to Penmanship, Through the Looking Glass

  1. I like your theory, so if we intentionally work on having better handwriting, specifically script, could we be also working on our own personal betterment?! Very interesting, I feel that our handwriting evolves with us, though the awareness of wanting to make it better could help us avoid a regression which many people have depending on their careers, like doctors’ handwriting/hieroglyphics that no one can read but him, which seems to get worse as he gets better (the women dr. in my life have either typed or had good handwriting) read you soon, Alexandra


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Alexandra and Pied Type,

      Research on the human brain continues to reveal the unexpected. For example, one might expect that being raised bilingual might lead to confusion or brain overload, but the opposite is true. Here is a synopsis of an article I read recently in Time Magazine:

      As evidenced by several recent studies, it turns out that being bilingual has quantifiable, positive effects on the brain. Recently an article in Time Magazine, The Power of the Bilingual Brain by Jeffrey Kluger, states that “Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.”

      It’s important to note too that these kinds of brain exercise be performed very early in life, not that I’ve given up on my own antiquarian brain. I recently completed an online course sponsored by my car insurance company designed to improve situational awareness and peripheral vision, which they aver really works even on old brains. No accidents, so maybe it’s working.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alexandra.

      I agree, PT, cursive is faster. Yet a better reason for it might be that it promotes forethought before committing thoughts to paper. When you can’t edit or spell-check, you are going to be more circumspect before committing to ink, eh?


      • PiedType says:

        It was faster for note-taking, that’s for sure. And as much as possible I eschewed typing, partly because I was so poor at it but primarily because I felt more connected to my writing when I had a pen in my hand. I think it does make one more thoughtful.

        As for the bilingualism, sounds like I’d better start brushing up on my high school and college Spanish. These days around here I’d have plenty of opportunity to practice.


      • Thank you 🙂 I am almost sure I read this same article, it fascinates me how much e bilingual brain fascinates others (jijiji) given the fact that this is the way I was arised and educated and had never quite looked into he true dimension of the “skill”… I love being bilingual and am going for my third language, which has been equally surprising to study now as an adult… Thank ou for the time and length of your response to my comment I appreciate this conversation with you, Alexandra


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          OK, Alexandra, now you have piqued my curiosity. Are you up for a few questions? What is your second language, are you fluent in it, when/where/how did you pick it up, and which one are you now planning to study?


          • Jajajaaa…sure, but don’t get too technical… Jajajaaa…OK my native alnguage is Spanish, I am mexican, born, raised and living in Mexico….I am 100% bilingual (minus a few typos here and there) in English and have been studying French on and off, I feel it is the most natural progressian seeing that I speak the two languages that make up most of it’s roots, surely historically it must have been in a different order but the three languages are interconnected (vocabulary, alphabet, phonics) making it easier to learn them all


  2. PiedType says:

    I don’t think cursive handwriting affects our psychology so much as our psychology affects our handwriting. (See all the handwriting analysts and their readings of our personalities based on our handwriting.) As I’ve said in the past, I’m appalled that some schools don’t even teach cursive handwriting anymore. What a shame. Legally, “making your mark,” even if it’s only an “X,” is sufficient on a document, but I’ll forever attach a cursive signature to level of education. Even if I’d never learned cursive, I would want to have a cursive signature. That signature is my brand; it’s the person I project on paper. I wish I’d taken the time to develop a more attractive, feminine script. You were wise to suggest your sons practice their signatures.

    As a side note, based on my own experience in college when I experimented with the fastest way to take notes, I concluded script is faster than printing. I wanted to develop printing because it was clearer than my cursive, but it never happened. Cursive was faster.


  3. Moe says:

    JIm – I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve experienced it. A few years ago when my mother died, I found myself having to send a lot of handwritten notes to her contemporaries. . .a lot. In so doing, I discovered that my handwriting had deteriorated over the decades since I took up the keyboard, AS HAD my ability to write coherently without editing myself. Shortly thereafter, my father died. But this time, after just a few notes, I found my own cursive coming back and found my thoughts flowing on the paper. It was exhilarating. Even though I still do 99% of my writing and correspondence on a keyboard, I try to pay close attention when I am writing little notes or lists. And sometimes I even practice. I can easily recall that wonderful feeling of “getting it back” when I wrote the thank you’s to Dad’s friends.

    Typing and writing engage us differently and there is definitely an emotional element as well. Great post.


  4. Archon's Den says:

    A very interesting and enlightening analysis. Thanx again, for the plug, and the link. 😀


  5. shimoniac says:

    Personally I have a love/hate relationship with the whole cursive writing thing. I have/had a problem with fine motor control when I was younger and a minor degree of dyslexia. This resulted in not being able to print my own name until I was six years old; and the only way my parents could induce me to do so was that printing my name was the only way I could get a library card of my own. My sister could print her name at the age of four. I almost failed Kindergarten and Grade One because of my inability to print; the teachers saw it as unwillingness.
    These days I still write as seldom as possible, though you couldn’t really call what I do cursive, it’s more a fusion of cursive and printing.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      And yet you clearly are articulate. Seems like good evidence that brain pathways formed in youth aren’t pliable, but nevertheless creativity can find an outlet. I suspect you are a good touch-typist. (?)


      • shimoniac says:

        Actually, I’m more of a not-bad touch typist; I do use most of my fingers. I get better when I practice, like anything else. I type as well as I can, looking at the keyboard from time to time, then I go back and read what I typed and correct errors before sending.


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