Handwriting is a procedure that combine visual perception processing and motor skills. In every culture, handwriting plays an important role in novel word acquisition. Currently, theories about handwriting are obtained through researches with pencils or pens as writing tools. However, as a cultural treasure of China, brush calligraphy received relatively less concern in the field of handwritng study. According to Kao and his colleagues, it seems that brush handwriting practice will bring universal advantage in cognitive task. With this assumption, the aim of the present study is to investigate the influence of brush handwriting on Chinese
orthographic learning and the underlying mechanism.
With children from Grade 1 to 6 as participants, Experiment 1 compared orthographic learning effect with soft-tipped brush and hard-tipped pen as writing tools. Participants were instructed to copy each novel Chinese character twice. The results showed better learning effects for all grades in brush handwriting condition.
Expecially, the advantage of brush handwriting was even larger for the first grade students than the other grades. In Experiment 2, we had children who just promoted to Grade 1 from preschool as participants and compared the orthographic learning effects of two handwriting conditions. During the learning session, participants were told to repeatedly copy each novel character for two minutes. The results showed that even for beginning learners of handwriting, brush handwriting practice would bring better learning effect than pencil handwriting. The differences between brush handwriting and pen (or pencil) handwriting are mainly on the written trace and on the motor control of handwriting movement, i.e.,visual feedback and proprioceptive feedback. In Experiment 3 and Experiment 4, we discociated the visual feedback information and the proprioceptive feedback information by letting participants learn novel characters presented on the screen in different types of written traces (written by brush or by pencil), and copy the novel characters with different types of writing tools (brush or pencil) without written trace. The participants of Experiment 3 were primary school student with brush writing experience. The result found that, both visual feedback and proprioceptive feedback contributed to the learning effect of brush handwriting. The participants of Experiment 4 were adult without brush writing experience, the result found that only visual feedback contributed to the learning effect of brush handwriting. The above results all found that brush handwriting has significant advantages in in novel word learning. In addition, the advantage of brush writing is not affected by writing experience. Even the beginners who do not have writing experience, brush handwriting still has advantages. However, the advantage of the brush handwriting mechanism is affected by the experience of the brush handwriting. For the subjects who do not have brush handwriting experience, only the visual feedback contributes to brush handwriting learning effect. For the subjects with brush writing experience, both visual feedback information and proprioceptive feedback information will contribute to the learning effect of brush handwriting.
The results of this study shows that brush handwriting, as a splendid traditional Chinese culture, not only has its artistic appreciation value, but also has its potential application value.