Handwriting on a tablet screen: Role of visual and propriokinaesthetic feedback in the control of movement by children and adults



Guilbert J, Alamargot D, Morin MF. (2019). Handwriting on a tablet screen: Role of visual and propriokinaesthetic feedback in the control of movement by children and adults. Human Movement Science. 65: 30-41.


Tablets are increasingly being used in schools for a variety of handwriting tasks. Given that the control of handwriting relies on both visual and proprioceptive feedback, especially in younger writers, this raises the question of whether the texture of the tablet surface affects graphomotor execution. A series of recent studies found that when the smoothness of a tablet screen modifies proprioceptive feedback, the impact on graphomotor execution varies according to the level of the writer’s handwriting skills. However, as the writing on the screen remained visible in these studies, participants may have compensated for the decrease in proprioceptive feedback by relying more heavily on visual information. The aim of the present study was therefore to unravel the respective contributions of different types of sensory feedback during handwriting development and, consequently, the compensatory role of visual information when children and adults have to write on a tablet. To this end, we asked second and fifth graders and adult participants to write letters and pseudowords on a plastic board placed on top of a tablet screen. Participants wrote on either the smooth or the granular side of the plastic board (manipulation of surface friction), and with normal vision or behind a shield that hid the hand and handwriting from direct view (manipulation of vision). Kinematic parameters and legibility were recorded to assess handwriting performances. Results revealed a significant interaction between proprioceptive and visual feedback on letter size, pen speed and legibility, regardless of participants’ age. Furthermore, reducing the visual and proprioceptive feedback had a greater effect on the children’s handwriting performances than on those of adults. Overall, the present study provides new insight into the contribution of the different types of sensory feedback and their interaction with handwriting development. In addition, our results on the impact of tablet surface on graphomotor execution will serve as useful pointers for improving the design of this tool for children, such as increasing the degree of friction of the screen surface.