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The inﬂuence of writing practice on
letter recognition in preschool children:
A comparison between handwriting and typing
Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives de la Me
´e, UMR CNRS 6193,
31 chemin Joseph Aiguier, 13402 Marseille cedex 20, France
Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maı
ˆtres (IUFM), Universite
´de Provence, Marseille, France
Received 4 August 2004; received in revised form 27 October 2004; accepted 29 October 2004
Available online 4 January 2005
A large body of data supports the view that movement plays a crucial role in letter repre-
sentation and suggests that handwriting contributes to the visual recognition of letters. If so,
changing the motor conditions while children are learning to write by using a method based on
typing instead of handwriting should aﬀect their subsequent letter recognition performances.
In order to test this hypothesis, we trained two groups of 38 children (aged 3–5 years) to copy
letters of the alphabet either by hand or by typing them. After three weeks of learning, we ran
two recognition tests, one week apart, to compare the letter recognition performances of the
two groups. The results showed that in the older children, the handwriting training gave rise to
a better letter recognition than the typing training.
Ó2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
PsycINFO classiﬁcation: 2330; 2343
Keywords: Children; Handwriting; Typing; Learning; Letter recognition; Motor–perceptual interactions
0001-6918/$ - see front matter Ó2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 4 91 16 42 39; fax: +33 4 91 16 42 96.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (J.-L. Velay).
Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
Nowadays, most adults probably write using a computer. Intensive use of word
processing programs and the handy tools they contain (copy/paste, automatic spell-
ing checks, etc.) is likely to modify high-level cognitive functions such as text com-
position (see Cochran-Smith, 1991). The present study deals with a more basic
aspect of computer writing: the eﬀects of dramatic motor changes resulting from
the use of a keyboard instead of a pen. Computers are now being increasingly used
at school, even at the preschool level, by very young children. If children happen to
learn to write with a keyboard before they master handwriting, will this aﬀect the
way they perceive written language?
The idea that our movements organize our perceptions and contribute to setting
up our spatial representations is not new and has by now become widely recog-
nized (see Viviani, 2002). Some of the properties of objects (such as their shape,
color and size) are perceived via the visual channel and others (such as their texture
and temperature) by touch; all the diverse sensory inputs involved are combined
together in time and space via active manipulatory movements, which also add
their own information (weight, size, etc.). During childhood, we learn to associate
actions with their correlated perceptions in order to build up uniﬁed, coherent rep-
resentations of objects. Once the neural network underlying a given representation
has been structured, any one of the inputs which was initially present suﬃces to
reactivate the whole network (Martin, Ungerleider, & Haxby, 2000; Pulvermu
1999). The existence of these motor-perceptual links has been observed with neu-
roimaging techniques in humans; in particular, the visual presentation of pictures
of objects, to which can be attributed a speciﬁc action, activated a premotor cor-
tical area, even when no actual motor response was required (Chao & Martin,
2000). Furthermore, a growing body of lesion study data (e.g. Sirigu, Duhamel,
& Poncet, 1991) suggests that sensorimotor knowledge about the functional prop-
erties of manipulatable objects is part of their representation, and can be used to
recognize or name them (Martin et al., 2000). These motor-perceptual interactions
involve associations of objects with potential actions: this is clearly what occurs in
the case of tools.
Although alphabetic characters are not graspable objects, motor-perceptual links
presumably contribute to their representation, since they are associated with highly
speciﬁc writing movements. The fact that inability to write letters can be associated
with reading deﬁcits, due to an impaired ability to identify letters visually, is consis-
tent with the existence of a tight coupling between the visual and sensorimotor per-
ception of letter shapes (Anderson, Damasio, & Damasio, 1990). In addition, it has
been established that writing movements can help subjects whose reading abilities are
impaired: for instance, patients with pure alexia, who were no longer able to recog-
nize letters visually, sometimes succeeded in doing so when they were asked to trace
the outline of the letters with their ﬁngers (Bartolomeo, Bachoud-Le
´vi, Chokron, &
Degos, 2002; Seki, Yajima, & Sugishita, 1995). Handwriting movements may there-
fore somehow activate the visual representation of letters. The writing order of the
numerous strokes composing ideograms is used as a cue to retrieve them from mem-
68 M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
ory (Flores dÕArcais, 1994), which suggests that the motor scheme speciﬁc to each
ideogram may be an essential component of its representation. This idea has been
supported by neuroimaging studies on Japanese subjects who showed motor activa-
tion while looking at ideograms (Matsuo et al., 2001). Similarly, Longcamp, Anton,
Roth, and Velay (2003) reported that, the simple visual presentation of Roman char-
acters activated a premotor zone in the left hemisphere in right-handed subjects, even
though no motor response was required. The activation of the corresponding area in
the opposite hemisphere of left-handed subjects conﬁrmed that this visually induced
activation depends on the writing hand (Longcamp, Anton, Roth, & Velay, submit-
ted for publication).
These various data converge to indicate that the cerebral representation of letters
might not be strictly visual, but might be based on a complex neural network includ-
ing a sensorimotor component acquired while learning concomitantly to read and
write. Close functional relationships between the reading and writing processes
might occur at a basic level, in addition to the interactions that have been described
at a more cognitive level (Fitzgerald & Shanahan, 2000).
However, the existence of a sensorimotor component of this kind does not neces-
sarily mean that it is involved in identifying letters. Nevertheless, there is some evi-
dence which strongly suggests that writing movements are involved in letter
memorization. For instance, repeated writing is an aid that is commonly used to help
Japanese children memorize ideograms. In the same vein, Japanese adults often re-
port that they write with their ﬁnger in the air to identify complex characters. In fact,
it has been reported that learning by writing facilitated subjectsÕmemorization of
graphic forms but not that of ideograms, words or syllables (Naka & Naoi, 1995).
This eﬀect was stronger when the forms were freely recalled in writing, but visual rec-
ognition of graphic designs was also enhanced by writing. The results of a subse-
quent study by Naka (1998) conﬁrmed the positive eﬀect of writing training on
free recall of graphic designs, but no such eﬀect was observed on visual recognition.
Visual recognition was also studied by Hulme (1979), who compared childrenÕs
learning of a series of abstract graphic forms, depending on whether they simply
looked at the forms or looked at them as well as tracing the forms with their index
ﬁnger. The tracing movements seemed to improve the childrenÕs memorization of the
graphic items; Thus, it was suggested that the visual and motor information might
undergo a common representation process.
There do exist some discrepancies between the results of the studies devoted to the
eﬀects of motor activity on letter memorization. Some authors have examined
whether the graphic movements involved in tracing or writing may enhance the
high-level cognitive processes involved in the acquisition of reading skills (see Gra-
ham & Weintraub, 1996 for a review). This was the case in the few studies in which
the respective advantages of learning by handwriting versus typewriting were com-
pared. In one study (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990), children spelled words which
were learned by writing them by hand better than those learned by typing them on a
computer. However, subsequent studies did not conﬁrm the advantage of the hand-
writing method (Vaughn, Schumm, & Gordon, 1992, 1993). The results obtained in
these studies showed that childrenÕs word writing and recognition performances were
M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79 69
not aﬀected when they had used a typing method, and since the act of typing is
simpler than handwriting, typewriting was thought to constitute an eﬃcient method
of teaching moderately mentally retarded students how to read and write (Calhoun,
We assume that the main process, if any, inﬂuenced by motor activity is likely to
be a spatial process, in the initial step in the recognition of written characters. In
other terms, writing movements may contribute to memorizing the shape and/or ori-
entation of characters. If this is so, changing the motor conditions present during
learning by using a typing method instead of a handwriting one will probably aﬀect
the subjectsÕrepresentation of letters and hence their subsequent letter recognition
performances. We therefore studied the early letter learning process in very young
children (3–5 years) who had not yet begun to learn to read and write at school.
The two modes of learning, i.e. handwriting and typing, were compared between
two groups of children by testing their letter recognition performances. Since the
children who participated were very young and their age range was large (2 years),
and since they had obviously not all reached the same stage of cognitive and motor
development, we assumed that all the children would not beneﬁt identically from the
learning. We therefore compared the learning modes as a function of the childrenÕs
age. Finally, it should be pointed out that most studies dealing with the eﬀects of
writing movements on reading ability have focused on quite short retention intervals
(Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990; Vaughn et al., 1992 but see Vaughn, Schumm, &
Gordon, 1993). Yet as mentioned by Hulme (1979), in teaching children to read and
write, one is dealing with long term memory, since the information learned is re-
tained for periods of time. Two recognition tests were therefore carried out in the
present study: the ﬁrst immediately following the learning phase (T1) and the second,
one week later (T2).
Seventy-six children, 41 boys and 35 girls, with a mean age of 3:10 years (46
months) and an age range of 2:9 (33 months) to 4:9 years old (57 months) partici-
pated in the experiment. They were tested in three classrooms at three diﬀerent
2.2.1. Learning groups
All the children were ﬁrst subjected to a battery of pre-tests. An adapted ver-
sion of the Bender–Gestalt test for children younger than 6 years old was used
to assess their perceptual-motor development. Manual dexterity was assessed using
a 9-hole pegboard in which the children had to insert nine cylindrical pieces as fast
as they could. The experimenter noted the time spent and the hand used. Manual
70 M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
laterality was assessed using a simpliﬁed version of the Edinburgh Handedness
Inventory (Oldﬁeld, 1971). In order to evaluate their initial level of letter knowl-
edge before learning, the children were submitted to a letter recognition pre-test.
This test was exactly the same as the test used after learning. The twelve uppercase
letters, which were to be learned after the pre-test, were used (B, C, D, E, F, G, J,
L, N, P, R, Z). The children were seated in front of a computer screen on which
four character-like patterns, including three distractors, were presented (Fig. 1).
Three distractors were used with each letter: the mirror image of the letter, a
transformed letter (with a stroke added or missing from the letter), and the mirror
image of the transformed letter. The instructions were: ‘‘Look carefully at the four
letters on the screen: only one of them is the ÔproperÕletter, which is the letter you
have learned with us. The other three are not correct. Show me this ÔproperÕletter
with your index ﬁnger!’’. No speed instructions were given. The childrenÕs re-
sponses were recorded by the experimenter on the keyboard of the computer used
for the test. Each of the four possible responses (upper left, upper right, lower left
and lower right) was associated to a given key of the keyboard. Each letter and its
distractors were presented twice in a random order (24 trials per session). The po-
sition of the four diﬀerent letters and distractors on the screen varied randomly
After the letter recognition pre-test, we computed a score for each child for the
number of correct responses (CR). In order to minimize the risk of getting a correct
response by chance, we considered that a letter was known only when two CR were
given in the two trials for this letter. This procedure reduced the number of CR but
allowed us to distinguish the children who really knew the letters from those who
gave random responses. The maximum score that could be scored in the test was
thus 12, corresponding to 24 CR. The results of the pre-test are given in Fig. 2.
On the basis of all the pre-tests, we divided the child sample into two learning
groups of 38 children which were matched in terms of age, sex, handedness, manual
dexterity, educational level and letter recognition level. In addition, the children con-
stituting both groups were equally distributed in each classroom in order to prevent
any Ôteacher eﬀectÕfrom occurring. In each learning group, the age range was 24
months. The 38 children of each group were sorted by age and divided into three
equivalent sub-groups of 8-month ranges (see Table 1). Six groups were thus ob-
tained, depending on the method used during learning, and age: Handwriting-older,
Fig. 1. Two example of visual conﬁgurations displayed on the computer screen during the letter
M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79 71
Handwriting-middle, Handwriting-younger, Typing-older, Typing-middle and Typ-
ing-younger. In order to ensure that the two learning groups were not diﬀerent with
regard to initial letter knowledge before the beginning of learning, the CR were ana-
lyzed by means of a two (Learning mode: Handwriting vs. Typing) by three (Age:
Older, Middle and. Younger) ANOVA. The results of the ANOVA showed that nei-
ther the main factors (Learning mode and Age) nor their interaction reached the sig-
niﬁcance level. In particular, the slight diﬀerence between handwriting and typing in
the older children was far from signiﬁcant (F(1, 70) < 1).
Fig. 2. Correct responses produced by younger, middle-age and older children, in the three recognition
tests in the case of both learning methods. Solid line: handwriting group. Dashed line: typing group. T1:
recognition test run immediately at the end of the learning session. T2: recognition test run one week later.
Error bars denote 95% conﬁdence intervals.
Mean ages and mean scores in the pre-tests for each of the six groups
Time spent for
Handwriting Younger 13 38.5 76.2 4.41 30.6 0.8
Middle 12 45.4 66.5 5.92 27.7 1.3
Older 13 53.2 58.4 10.77 24.7 1.6
Typing Younger 13 38.1 66.7 4.33 29.6 0.8
Middle 13 45.0 77.1 6.84 25.2 1.2
Older 12 53.5 61.6 10.75 24.2 1.3
72 M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
The aim of the experiment was for the children to implicitly learn the form of 12
uppercase letters by writing them. We used uppercase letters for several reasons:
ﬁrst, they are the simplest letters to write and they were the ﬁrst letters that were
taught at these schools, and second, the uppercase letters are what one sees on com-
puter keyboards. Furthermore, we chose these 12 letters because they are not sym-
metrical, so we could use their mirror image as a distractor in the recognition tests.
We did not want children to be trained with too many letters because we had just a
few weeks to carry out the training and the tests. In order to make the learning
more attractive, instead of teaching the 12 letters separately, they were included
in four words. To form words, we added three vowels (A, O, I), which were not
included in the recognition tests. The words were included in turn in a story that
was told to the children by the teachers for a few weeks prior to the learning period.
The four words were: LAPIN (rabbit), JOB (the rabbitÕs name in the story), CERF
(stag) and ZADIG (the stagÕs name in the story). Each letter to be learned was pres-
ent only once in the four words (L-P-N, J-B, CERF, Z-D-G). The learning period
lasted for 3 weeks, and consisted of one half-hour session per week. The children
were trained in groups of four, in presence of two experimenters, in a quiet class-
room. The parents were informed about the aim of the experiment and they were
asked not to have the children practice at home during the duration of the
184.108.40.206. Typing training. Each word was displayed separately on the upper left side of
the computer screen, with 3 cm tall characters. The children were asked to look at
the letters constituting the word, ﬁnd the appropriate letters on the keyboard, and
type each of them. No constraints were imposed regarding the order of the letters.
When the child typed a wrong letter, the experimenter informed him/her, cancelled
the wrong letter, and asked the child to ﬁnd and type the correct letter. When all
the letters composing the target word had been typed, the experimenter displayed the
next word. The keyboard had been adapted for the purpose of the study: all the keys
other than the 15 keys required to type the words (plus the backspace key and
the carriage return bar for the experimenter) were removed from the keyboard.
The 15 remaining keys were arranged in the central part of the keyboard. The four
words were copied twice at each session, so the children typed each letter twice per
220.127.116.11. Handwriting training. Each word was presented on the upper left side of a
piece of paper with 3 cm tall characters. The children were asked to copy the letters
of the word underneath the model with a felt-tip pen. The letters could be copied
anywhere on the paper and in any order. No constraints were imposed regarding
the size of the letters. Since we wanted both types of training to be as similar as
possible, we gave the same kind of feedback in handwriting and typing. In the typ-
ing training, the only errors that could occur were lack of a letter and confusion
between two letters. In handwriting, confusion was not possible but the chil-
dren could miscopy the letter. We did not correct the children when the form of
M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79 73
the written letter was not perfect. However, if a letter was not written, the experi-
menter informed the child that a letter was lacking and asked him/her to ﬁnd the
lacking letter on the model and write it. When all the letters composing the target
word had been written, the experimenter replaced the worksheet with the following
one on which the next model word was presented. Each letter was copied twice at
2.2.3. Letter recognition tests
The letter recognition tests were exactly the same as the aforementioned test per-
formed before learning. A ﬁrst test was run immediately at the end of the last learn-
ing session (T1) and repeated one week later (T2).
The number of CR was computed for T1 and T2 as previously described for the
pre-test. The overall CR results are presented in Fig. 2. In order to analyze the im-
pact of learning on the letter recognition, the CR in the pre-test and in T1 were sub-
mitted to a two (Learning mode: handwriting vs. typing) by three (Age: older,
middle and younger) by two (Time of testing: pre vs. T1) ANOVA, with repeated
measures on the third factor. This ﬁrst analysis showed that the number of CR
was signiﬁcantly greater after learning (T1) than before (pre-test) (F(1, 70) = 11.1,
p< 0.002). The ÔTime of testingÕby ÔAgeÕinteraction was not signiﬁcant
(F(2, 70) = 2.29, ns), but the increase of CR was only signiﬁcant in the older
(F(1, 23) = 14.7, p< 0.001) and not in the middle (F(1, 23) = 1.95, ns) and younger
children (F(1, 24) < 1). Finally, in the older children, the increase in CR was signif-
icant in the handwriting group (F(1, 12) = 17.5, p< 0.005) but not in the typing
group (F(1, 11) = 1.76, ns).
In order to compare the performances of children immediately after learning (T1)
and one week later (T2), the CR were submitted to a two (Learning mode: handwrit-
ing vs. typing) by three (Age: older, middle and. younger) by two (Time of testing: T1
vs. T2) ANOVA, with repeated measures on the third factor. The analysis showed
that the number of CR was not the same at all ages (F(2, 70) = 9.71, p< 0.001):
the older children gave more CR than the middle (F(1, 46) = 6.51, p< 0.005) and
younger children (F(1, 47) = 18.3, p< 0.001). The performance of middle and youn-
ger children did not diﬀer signiﬁcantly (F(1, 47) = 2.92, ns).
As a whole, the children who wrote the letters gave more CR than those who
typed them, but the diﬀerence only marginally reached the signiﬁcance level
(F(1, 70) = 3.86, p< 0.06). However, the ÔLearning modeÕby ÔAgeÕinteraction was
signiﬁcant (F(1, 70) = 4.50, p< 0.02). As can be seen in Fig. 2, the older children
who used the handwriting method produced a larger number of CR than the same
age children who used the typing method (F(1, 23) = 7.35, p< 0.02). Conversely,
the performances showed no change with the learning method in the middle and
younger children. Finally, neither the time of testing nor the interactions implying
this factor reached the signiﬁcance level.
74 M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
The aim of this experiment was to determine whether two diﬀerent types of writ-
ing training could induce diﬀerent letter memorization. As a whole, the level of learn-
ing was low, since only the older children showed an increase in CR between pre-test
and T1 and more precisely, only the older children who learned by handwriting.
Such a low eﬀect of learning can be explained by several causes. First, we did not
explicitly teach the form of the letter because we wanted to compare two quite dif-
ferent writing methods and it was impossible to give comparable feedback in both
types of learning. In typing, the letter is displayed with its perfect shape and no feed-
back has to be given about the typing movement. Thus we did not give feedback in
the handwriting training to be as close as possible to the typing situation. In addi-
tion, we never directed the childrenÕs attention towards the exact form of the letter
they wrote. In consequence, the learning was implicit. Furthermore, the eﬀective time
for learning was short (1.5 h within 3 weeks) with respect to the time usually required
for learning to write and read. A longer time would have been more eﬃcient but it
was not possible to extend the teaching sessions. Despite this, the older children who
were trained by handwriting performed more successfully in the letter recognition
tests than those who were trained by typing.
In this debate about the importance of motor conditions when learning to read
and write, the results of the present study are in agreement with those showing that
writing letters facilitates their memorization and their subsequent recognition
(Hulme, 1979; Naka & Naoi, 1995). However, a negative result was obtained in a
study in which learning methods diﬀering in their motor involvement were compared
in children (aged 3–6 years) (Courrieu & De Falco, 1989). In the motor situation,
instead of writing, the children had to trace over a picture of the letters where the
dynamics of the tracing movement were indicated graphically. After the training
phase, no eﬀects of the motor involvement which had occurred during the learning
period were observed. Another negative result was obtained by Naka (1998), who
observed that an advantage of handwriting showed up only when the memorization
was tested by free writing recall, and not in simple visual recognition tests.
There are points that should be mentioned which may help to explain the advan-
tage of handwriting we observed. First, the subjects were very young: they were pre-
school children who had not had any previous experience of learning to read and
write before the experiment. We were hence able to examine the very ﬁrst step in
the learning process, when the letters are still perceived as graphic forms without
any particular phonological meaning. During the learning phase, the children were
not required to learn the words they saw, and not even to name the letters, but only
to write or type them. Likewise, in the recognition test, we did not ask the children to
identify or spell words, but only to detect the letters among the distractors and to
point at them without any verbalization. The whole procedure was therefore focused
on a low level spatial processing of letters where sensorimotor signals might play a
Secondly, another diﬀerence in comparison with previous studies was that learn-
ing extended over a period of three weeks, whereas in other studies on this topic, the
M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79 75
training period generally consisted of a single session lasting anything from a few
minutes to an hour. However, motor performances are known to evolve slowly,
requiring many repetitions during several training sessions (Karni, 1996). The acqui-
sition of motor skills seems to involve two main stages: an early, fast learning stage
in which performances improve considerably as the result of a single training session,
and a later, slow learning stage in which further gains can occur during several ses-
sions (and even weeks) of practice (Ungerleider, Doyon, & Karni, 2002). A 3-week
learning period certainly seems to provide favorable conditions for the children to set
up a motor program for writing each letter and create the perceptual-motor links
with its visual form. Assuming that the motor program associated with a letter is
automatically reactivated when looking at it (Longcamp et al., 2003), this mecha-
nism might help to recognize letters among close graphic forms.
Handwriting training allowed the older children to improve their performance in
character recognition whereas the same training was not eﬃcient in the children
younger than ﬁfty months. Of course, several reasons might explain this age-related
diﬀerence: in particular, the lesser cognitive development of the younger children.
Another reason might be that the ﬁne motor control involved in handwriting was
not mature enough in the younger children for them to produce the writing move-
ments exactly. The fact that the graphic performances of 4- to 6-year old children
have been found to correlate better with a motor score than with chronological
age (van Galen, 1980) conﬁrms that motor development is a key factor in handwrit-
ing. It has been suggested that handwriting development may be characterized by in-
creased eﬃciency in inhibiting noise in the neuromotor and muscular system (van
Galen, Portier, Smits-Engelsman, & Schomaker, 1993). Therefore, failure to inhibit
the neuromotor noise might be the most likely cause of poor handwriting (Smits-
Engelsman & van Galen, 1997). For the same maturational reasons, the peripheral
kinaesthetic signals accompanying movements might be particularly noisy in youn-
ger children. The authors of studies on changes in kinaesthetic sensitivity with age
have claimed that more than 30% of all 5-year old children may be Ôkinaesthetically
ineptÕ(Laszlo & Broderick, 1991). Finally, the interhemispheric relationships in-
volved in visuo-motor coordination develop from 4 to 14 years of age, without
acquiring all the characteristics present in adults (Hay & Velay, 2003). Thus, at
the ages of the children who participated, a few months diﬀerence in age is undoubt-
edly crucial in terms of motor system maturation. In the younger children, the sen-
sorimotor signals associated with movements might be too noisy to generate a
correct sensorimotor representation of letters.
From the sensorimotor point of view, handwriting and typing are clearly two dis-
tinct ways of writing, and these writing methods may well involve distinct central
processes. The children who participated in this experiment did not type with both
hands as expert typists do, nor did they even use several digits. Actually, since they
had just one key to press at a time, they used their index ﬁnger, as most beginners do.
During the training period, in the case of both handwriting and typing, a hand move-
ment was therefore associated with the visual image of a given letter, but the two
movements performed were quite diﬀerent. On the one hand, the handwriting learn-
ing method requires the writer to perform a movement that completely deﬁnes the
76 M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79
shape of the letter in order to build an internal model of the character. Once the
learning is completed, there exists a unique correspondence between a given printed
letter and the movement that is used to write this letter. On the other hand, typing is
also a complex form of spatial learning in which the beginner typist has to build a
cognitive map of the keyboard (see for instance Gentner, 1983; Logan, 1999). Learn-
ing typewriting consists in precisely locating a key in the keyboard and pressing it,
but since the trajectory depends on the location of the ﬁnger before it goes into ac-
tion, no speciﬁc relationship between the visual form of a letter and a given move-
ment is built. Moreover, there is nothing in this pointing movement which might
inform about the shape of the letters. In short, handwriting provides on-line signals
from several sources, including vision, motor commands, and kinaesthetic feedback,
which are closely linked and simultaneously distributed in time. No such spatio-tem-
poral pattern occurs in typewriting. In addition to the motor diﬀerences, there exist
other diﬀerences between the two writing methods. In particular, attentional diﬀer-
ences are apparent, since learning to write a letter may require a deeper level of pro-
cessing than ﬁnding a letter on a keyboard. Typing, in contrast to handwriting,
inherently requires visual discrimination among letters in the process of key selec-
tion. These diﬀerent aspects probably play a role in the implicit learning during both
Finally, we sought to determine whether the knowledge implicitly learned by writ-
ing practice was maintained after long delays; To this aim, we observed that, in the
handwriting group, the recognition performance at the end of training and after one
week were identical. This is in agreement with data showing that, once it has been
thoroughly learned and stabilized, motor memory can last for very long periods of
time without any further practice (Shadmehr & Brashers-Krug, 1997). It is clear that
much longer delays should have been tested because the learning process in question
here involves memory extending over much longer periods of time.
In conclusion, the present results indicate that, provided they are not too young,
handwriting learning helps children to memorize the form of a letter. Clearly, we
cannot tell whether this process plays a role in reading, where whole words are per-
ceived instead of isolated letters. Yet, as it seems to be widely accepted that letter rec-
ognition is the ﬁrst stage in reading (Coltheart, Rastle, Perry, Langdon, & Ziegler,
2001), the way children perceive letters might indeed aﬀect the way they read. Func-
tional links have been found to exist between global motor skills performance and
reading disabilities, in both children (Fawcett, Nicolson, & Dean, 1996) and adults
(Nicolson et al., 1999; Velay, Daﬀaure, Giraud, & Habib, 2002), and further research
is now required to be able to answer the question as to whether learning how to write
really helps children to learn how to read.
The research was funded by the French Research Ministry (A.C.I. ÔCognitiqueÕ
COG73). Marieke Longcamp was supported by a fellowship from the French Re-
search Ministry (A.C.I. ÔCognitiqueÕ). We thank M. Besson and J.C. Gilhodes for
M. Longcamp et al. / Acta Psychologica 119 (2005) 67–79 77
critical comments on the manuscript and Reyna Leigh Gordon for revising the Eng-
lish. We are particularly grateful to the teachers of the three schools in Marseille
ˆteau-Sec, Desautel and Valmante) who allowed us to work with their pupils
during school time.
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