Karin H. James is a professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana Univeristy. Professor James has studied handwriting and its effects on early literacy development and brain development for the past 15 years. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and has appeared in numerous media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street journal, Washington post, NPR and the BBC.
Handwriting is a complex visual-motor skill that affects early reading development. A large body of work has demonstrated that a widespread neural system comprising ventral-temporal, parietal, and frontal motor regions supports handwriting in adults, yet there is little work that has investigated the neural systems that support handwriting in young children who are still learning to read. In our research program we seek to understand the neural substrates that support – and are affected by - handwriting through early development. We use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and a novel MRI-compatible writing tablet that allows us to measure brain activation in young children during handwriting and visual letter perception. Across several studies we show that a) the developing brain is changed by handwriting experience in important ways that are not seen with typing or tracing; b) preschool children are especially sensitive - both neurally and behaviorally - to the variability in letter forms that results from writing by hand and c) that neural substrates that support handwriting change with experience and literacy skill. This body of work supports the idea that writing by hand is important for shaping brain systems that are important in literacy.