Pulp Magic

OCTOBER 24, 2016

Your Brain Loves Paper

What’s so special about paper? For one thing, your mind and body love it. Humans have evolved a sense of touch so powerful that we easily forget its influence on us. But there’s a growing body of scientific research in the field of haptics that strongly suggests the tangible nature of paper makes it a remarkably effective communications medium.

A 2013 article in Scientific American reported that words on paper are easier to read and comprehend because the physicality of the print aligns with the way the human brain understands and navigates the world. To the brain, words are as physically present as any other physical object. And it’s not just reading where paper stands out. An article just this month in the New York Times says the act of writing on paper stimulates the brain in ways that typing on a keyboard cannot replicate.

Princeton psychologists, Pam Mueller and Danny Oppenheimer, figured this out separately when they were students taking notes on their laptops. Mueller decided one day to switch to pen and paper during a grad school lecture.  “I felt like I’d gotten so much more out of the lecture that day,” says Mueller. “Danny said that he’d had a related experience in a faculty meeting: He was taking notes on his computer, and looked up and realized that he had no idea what the person was actually talking about.”

The science of haptics is not entirely new. Back in he 1980s and 90s, researchers had concluded that it’s easier to read words in ink on paper than those in pixels on a screen. But today the field is wide open and the link between the brain and the page is unfolding in remarkable detail.

Case in point, SAPPI – the South African-based pulp and paper company – has produced a beautiful book on the subject called, HapticBrain, HapticBrand: The Neuroscience of Touch. The book explores the science behind consumer brand experiences that take touch and tangibility into account. There’s also a series of short videos to accompany the book in which Dr. David Eagleman explains the current research through easy to understand examples.

But you already know about haptics. It’s innate. It’s the reason we send Valentines Day cards or hold up signs when marathoners run past. Writing our thoughts and wishes on paper makes them more real, more tangible.

And it makes us more human.