I was always the kid with the drawings in the margins of my notes at school. My teachers would call me out for “daydreaming and doodling” instead of paying attention to the lecture. Can anyone relate?
The problem was that I was paying attention. I actually found myself thinking about the information being presented when I was doodling. If I didn’t doodle, my mind started to wander off the subject. Keeping my hands busy kept my mind open. The teachers didn’t seem to agree.
Throughout my adult years, I have found myself creating little patterns and drawings in the margins of notes at business conferences and at church. I have gotten my share of looks. However, as I looked around, I could see others doing the same thing and they were not slackers either. It wasn’t until recently that my doodle-concentration theory was validated.
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The Doodle Memory Theory
In a 2009 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, a group of people were read a list of names. Half the group just sat and listened, while the other half were encouraged to doodle while listening to the list of names. After the list was read, all participants where given a surprise quiz. The doodling group remembered 29% more information than the non-doodling group.
Although my high school teachers didn’t buy my argument that doodling helped me pay attention in class, there seems to be some truth there. Doodling seems to stimulate the brain in a way that makes it easier to focus without allowing the mind to wander. This causes the material presented in a lecture, audio book, podcast, class, or business call easier to recall later.
In Sunni Brown’s book, The Doodle Revolution: Unlock The Power To Think Differently, she advocates visual literacy. She teaches how to doodle to not only to enhance memory, but to improve problem solving and boost creativity. With this information, there are lots of reasons to encourage your students to doodle!
When Is Doodling Distracting?
While doodling while listening to information being presented seems to help recollection, doodling while being presented information visually actually hinders recall.
In a 2012 study published by University Of British Columbia, a group of people viewed a set of images. Half of the group was asked to doodle while they viewed the images. The other half did not doodle. When quizzed about the images later, the doodlers struggled to recall the images.
Researcher Elaine Chan suggested that the doodlers visual-processing ability was stretched by the two visual tasks. This caused a traffic jam of information and hindered recollection.
How To Doodle
There is no wrong or right way to doodle.
Some people seem to draw mindlessly as if almost a reflex to auditory stimuli. These people might instantly start scribbling on their paper when a speaker or teacher starts presenting information. They draw flowers or geometric patters without really thinking about it. Other people are more focused in their doodling and might draw something that represents the information they are hearing.
Personally, I doodle geometric patterns on the margins of my notes or lists. I’m not good at drawing actual things, but I like patterns. I even doodled on my Boogie Board grocery list while trying to think of what else I needed to add.
My son doodles big. He likes to doodle on his Boogie Board while listening to an audio book or while I am reading to him. Most of the time, he just draws a random design and builds from there. To start over, all he has to do is press the button. It erases the drawing and he has a clean slate to doodle again.
So go ahead! Doodle all you want. Let your kids doodle away. You are all just maximizing your memory!