Taking notes during high school history class or college lectures may have been a course requirement for a reason: Jotting down details when you’re learning new information can help boost your memory, research finds. And that’s especially important for jurors, whose memories improve when allowed to take and review notes during court trials, according to a new study.

Depending on which judicial system they’re in, jurors may or may not be allowed to take notes during trial. Note-taking during trials, in fact, has been somewhat controversial, and it has taken some time for the practice to become more commonplace. Some lawyers have argued that jurors’ notes may be a disadvantage to clients, contributing to jurors capturing wrong information or focusing on trivial details. But the researchers of the latest study believe that jurors who don’t take notes tend to “forget critical trial information and this can influence their verdicts,” they write. As a result, the researchers hypothesized that allowing jurors to take notes during mock trials would enhance their memories and help them make better decisions.

The researchers gathered 144 adults who were jury eligible, and had them watch the video of a murder trial that took place in 1992. Three-quarters of the mock jurors were allowed to take notes; while one-third of that group were able to review their notes for ten minutes, one-third mentally reviewed the trial without their notes, and the final one-third had to complete a filler task to prevent them from reviewing the trial at all. The quarter of mock jurors who didn’t take any notes during the trial were also given a filler task to prevent mental reviewing.

It turned out that simply taking notes significantly improved the mock jurors’ memory of trial evidence. But those who took notes then reviewed them afterwards had the best recollection of events, suggesting that note-taking during court might actually have an impact on the trial’s outcome.

“There is now a growing body of evidence that note-taking during trials enhances jurors’ memory of trial evidence and this improves their decision-making when reaching verdicts,” said Dr. Craig Thorley, a Psychology lecturer at the University of Liverpool and an author of the study, in a press release. “This research emphasizes the importance of note-taking as an aid to remembering trial evidence but also shows that permitting jurors to review their notes, which is something courts do not typically do, further enhances their memory of trial evidence. I would therefore strongly recommend courts permit jurors to take notes during a trial and then give jurors time to review them prior to reaching a verdict.”

In order for the study to be more effective, however, jurors who did not take notes should have been given the chance to mentally review the trial and then compared to those who took notes and mentally reviewed it.

Write With Your Hand, Not Keyboard

What does this mean for the rest of us who don’t anticipate jury duty anytime soon? The study is one of several past studies that have found note-taking — in particular, hand-written notes — improves memory. A 2014 study compared the effects of handwritten notes to digital notes taken on laptops, and found that while both practices induced memorization, only the note takers performed well when tested on the big ideas. While “the students using laptops were in fact more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning,” the Association for Psychology Science (APS) states, “they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this ‘mindless transcription’ appeared to cancel out the benefits.”

Another 2014 study found that, perhaps not surprisingly, students who took notes or worked on their laptops were more distracted by checking social media than those who used the more traditional pen and paper. According to the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, note-taking involves several cognitive processing mechanisms that help people make connections between different ideas, partake in “deep processing of course content,” and aid them in applying the information in new ways. Whether you’re a juror, a student, or an adult learning new things, note-taking may be a beneficial way to boost your memory and help you understand bigger ideas.

Source: Thorley C. Note Taking and Note Reviewing Enhance Jurors’ Recall of Trial Information. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2016.