The Hand-Brain Alliance

In the previous post, we learned about Carly, whose overwhelming problem drove her to take refuge in a displacement activity that was not beneficial — overeating. Carly dealt with her life stressors by making a plan and then following through, and it worked. She reported, “I no longer had to run a displacement activity to deal with that overflow energy.”

A plan on paper… Yes, paper

In the early days of grade-school education in America, teachers grasped a principle that was not scientifically verifiable at the time. But they tried to put it to use anyway, by, for instance, requiring a rowdy student to write 100 times “I will sit quietly in class,” hoping that it would sink in.

As it turns out, things written by hand do sink in. Many scholars heartily agree with Dr. Pretlow that writing things down is very useful. There is a complicity between the hand and the brain, as they collaborate in a way that is difficult to imitate. Executive and writer Bryan Goodwin says,

The very act of handwriting appears to have important cognitive benefits. For example, a study of 15 children in Indiana […] who were asked to write, trace, or type letters while having their brains scanned found that writing letters activated more regions of the brain than typing letters — in particular, visual processing centers at the heart of perceiving letters.

The author goes on to say that “Note taking is an effective memory and learning aid because it prompts students to think about their learning; it’s more effective when done by hand…” College students love their note-taking devices, but a lot of them have experimented enough to discover that handwritten notes impress the material into the memory much more definitively.

Journalist and mental health advocate Annakeara Stinson wrote about a study done in 2014 that showed,

[…] note-taking with an actual pen or pencil, rather than typing the information on a laptop, is a way more effective means of learning new information. According to their findings, the researchers showed that taking notes on laptops results in “shallower processing,” meaning it doesn’t help you fully absorb the information in a way that’ll allow you to recall it later on.

Something else is going on here, too. Since civilization began, there is an ancient precept that to “put it in writing” creates a moral obligation. It’s the whole point and basis of contract law. If a person writes down, “I will pay Mr. Jones $300 on October 20” and signs it, that piece of paper can be taken to court and payment can be enforced by the law. There is similar power in creating a contract with oneself.

We have heard the old saying, “To thine own self be true” so often, we don’t even know what it means. Being true to yourself means you don’t cheat on yourself, lie to yourself, or break promises to yourself. The main reason for not lying to yourself is, it is doomed to failure. Abraham Lincoln said,

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Here is a spinoff from that venerable maxim:

You can always BS some people; sometimes you can BS everybody… but you can’t BS yourself.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Research Matters/The Magic of Writing Stuff Down,”, April 2018
Source: “Does Writing Things Down Help You Learn? Science Says It Definitely Does & Here’s Why,”, 03/01/18
Image by Adam Cutler/Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources