Research Article: Long-term Chinese calligraphic handwriting reshapes the posterior cingulate cortex: A VBM study

Date Published: April 4, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Wen Chen, Chuansheng Chen, Pin Yang, Suyu Bi, Jin Liu, Mingrui Xia, Qixiang Lin, Na Ma, Na Li, Yong He, Jiacai Zhang, Yiwen Wang, Wenjing Wang, Dongtao Wei.


As a special kind of handwriting with a brush, Chinese calligraphic handwriting (CCH) requires a large amount of practice with high levels of concentration and emotion regulation. Previous studies have showed that long-term CCH training has positive effects physically (induced by handwriting activities) and psychologically (induced by the state of relaxation and concentration), the latter of which is similar to the effects of meditation. The aim of this study was to investigate the long-term CCH training effect on anxiety and attention, as well as brain structure. Participants were 32 individuals who had at least five years of CCH experience and 44 controls. Results showed that CCH training benefited individuals’ selective and divided attention but did not decrease their anxiety level. Moreover, the VBM analysis showed that long-term CCH training was mainly associated with smaller grey matter volumes (GMV) in the right precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). No brain areas showed larger GMV in the CCH group than the control group. Using two sets of regions of interest (ROIs), one related to meditation and the other to handwriting, ROI analysis showed significant differences between the CCH and the control group only at the meditation-related ROIs, not at the handwriting-related ROIs. Finally, for the whole sample, the GMV of both the whole brain and the PCC were negatively correlated with selective attention and divided attention. The present study was cross-sectional and had a relatively small sample size, but its results suggested that CCH training might benefit attention and influence particular brain structure through mental processes such as meditation.

Partial Text

As one of the most prominent elements of Chinese traditional culture, Chinese calligraphy can be traced back to more than 3000 years ago. In addition to its utility in conveying information, Chinese calligraphic handwriting (CCH) has developed special artistic value. Calligraphers use different scripting types (with seal, clerical, running, grass, and regular scripts as the five most popular scripts) to express ideas and create artworks. CCH is quite different from regular handwriting with a common pen or pencil. CCH is believed to integrate the mind and body into writing the Chinese characters [1]. It emphasizes the control of the brush, revealing strength without flaunting it and expressing inner psyche through the movements of the brush. Cognitively, CCH involves visual perception, spatial structuring, and planning [2].

The current study explored the effect the long-term experience with CCH on both behavioral outcomes (anxiety and attention) and brain structure (GMV). Results indicated that individuals with at least five years of CCH experience showed better performance on the selective and divided attention tasks. VBM results showed that long-term CCH training could lead to decreased GMV (mainly in the precuneus/PCC). Correlation analysis revealed that the GMV of the whole brain and PCC had negative relations with selective and divided attention, respectively.




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