What is it with aesthetically pleasing notes?

Are they really worth the time and energy?

Whether you love it or hate it, back-to-school season is here. This also means that back-to-school content is flooding your Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok accounts.

Although I love a good “tips and tricks” guide on how to be successful in school, I can’t help but notice it’s always the same advice, given by the same Type A people.

Getting ready to go back to school now is not just about making sure your pencil is sharpened, but also ensuring that all aspects of your life are in order before beginning this new chapter.

You have to clean out your work space, test out all your pens, buy new supplies, have healthy breakfast and lunch ideas ready, all to guarantee an even better student lifestyle.

Having your life organized makes sense to start the new school year, but why do we often feel the need to be so aesthetic in our organization?

In this digital age, a digital cleanse of all our unneeded documents, photos, contacts, etc., on all our devices is also necessary.

Speaking of devices, the iPad-for-note-taking craze is upon us. Maybe I’m late to the trend but I have to admit I tried it last year and it really has changed my life for the better.

My back is thanking me for carrying just a small tablet that contains all my readings and notes for five classes.

You could tell me that since people have been typing notes on their laptops for years now, what’s so special about the iPad? Well, let me tell you, the iPad has an aesthetic that the laptop doesn’t.

As someone who always liked to doodle, highlight and annotate my readings, I can do that with my iPad and still feel the satisfaction of writing on a good old piece of paper — almost.

I’m not the only iPad note-taker who will advocate for this; it’s what all the studying content online will tell you, too.

Whether it’s on their tablet or in a notebook, the experts in note-taking all have one thing in common: their notes are aesthetically pleasing.

But does looking at pretty notes really equal better studying?

In a study conducted by neurobiologists Tomohiro Ishizu and Semir Zeki, subjects were presented with visual art while they listened to music. They would then rate the songs and art pieces in order to measure whether their brain activity changed or increased once put in contact with stimuli they considered “beautiful.”

The study found that when looking at something they found beautiful, brain activity intensified for the subjects, including increased blood-flow in the medial orbito-frontal cortex, which has been associated with reward, pleasure and judgment.

So on top of just finding them pretty, looking at aesthetically-pleasing notes might give us a sense of accomplishment and reward, but this does not automatically mean we will retain information better.

A lot of the time, aesthetically pleasing notes are more than just pretty; they’re organized, detailed and colour-coded — all of which helps people to review the material better.

On the flip side, you can have detailed, organized and well-structured notes without them being aesthetically pleasing.

So why does all the studying content we see online have such a focus on aesthetics?

After reading the aforementioned study I realized that for me, it might be to feel a little sense of control in what seems like an overwhelming challenge: university.

Even though I know deep down that it doesn’t do anything for me academically, I will continue to try my best at calligraphy and highlighting my sub-titles this semester just to make me feel better.

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