Research Article: Long-Term Experience of Chinese Calligraphic Handwriting Is Associated with Better Executive Functions and Stronger Resting-State Functional Connectivity in Related Brain Regions

Date Published: January 27, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Wen Chen, Yong He, Yang Gao, Cuiping Zhang, Chuansheng Chen, Suyu Bi, Pin Yang, Yiwen Wang, Wenjing Wang, Lin Lu.


Chinese calligraphic handwriting (CCH) is a traditional art form that requires high levels of concentration and motor control. Previous research has linked short-term training in CCH to improvements in attention and memory. Little is known about the potential impacts of long-term CCH practice on a broader array of executive functions and their potential neural substrates. In this cross-sectional study, we recruited 36 practitioners with at least 5 years of CCH experience and 50 control subjects with no more than one month of CCH practice and investigated their differences in the three components of executive functions (i.e., shifting, updating, and inhibition). Valid resting-state fMRI data were collected from 31 CCH and 40 control participants. Compared with the controls, CCH individuals showed better updating (as measured by the Corsi Block Test) and inhibition (as measured by the Stroop Word-Color Test), but the two groups did not differ in shifting (as measured by a cue-target task). The CCH group showed stronger resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) than the control group in brain areas involved in updating and inhibition. These results suggested that long-term CCH training may be associated with improvements in specific aspects of executive functions and strengthened neural networks in related brain regions.

Partial Text

Chinese calligraphy has a long history, originated from oracle-bone writing (chia ku wen) and evolved into subsequent five main forms, including seal script (chuan shu), clerical script (li shu), running script (hsing shu), grass writing (tsao shu), and model script (kai shu) [1]. To master any style of Chinese calligraphy is a difficult task and requires years of practice, which includes learning the precise creation of each stroke, the composition of the whole piece, and the rhythm of writing and associated breathing [2].

The current study explored the association between long-term experience with CCH and executive functions (EFs), including attentional flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control. Results indicated that individuals with at least five years of CCH experience performed better than did the controls on two of the tests: one tapping working memory and the other inhibition. These results extended earlier work about short-term CCH training’s effects on cognitive abilities [17, 57, 58]. Moreover, we found that CCH participants showed stronger RSFC than did the control group across a number of brain regions, especially those related to EFs and the default mode network (DMN), visual processing network (VPN), primary somatomotor network (PSN), and basal ganglia.

The current study demonstrated that long-term CCH training was associated with better executive functions and stronger RSFC of the frontal and parietal cortex and basal ganglia.