Good news! If doodling is how you get through dull meetings or chemistry class, you might actually be helping your memory to work better. A recent study out of England's Plymouth University has suggested that drawing simple shapes and lines supports memory function.
For decades, school children and employees have suffered the reprimand of teachers and bosses for doodling, and "not paying attention." And the doodlers themselves may very well have been trying to escape the mental wasteland of dull lecturing. But, according to Jackie Andre, PhD, who headed the research at the University of Plymouth's School of Psychology, doodling is a means of subconscious memory enhancement. The team's findings were published online in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.
Dr. Andre's experiment involved 40 adults, all of whom were asked to listen to a boring telephone conversation containing several names and places. 20 of the participants were encouraged to do some basic doodling - shading in circles and squares on a given piece of paper. The other 20 participants were not offered the doodle option. After the two and a half minute conversation was over and another minute had passed, each participant tried to recall as many names and places as they could from the phone call. None of the participants were instructed to listen for any particular information before the conversation began. The results were that the doodlers remembered 7.5 pieces of information on average, compared with the 5.8 pieces of information remembered by the non-doodlers. This is a difference of 29%.
"This study suggests that in everyday life doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing," said Dr. Andre.
Why does doodling assist memory retention? The explanation is less about what doodling does, and more about what not doodling lets you do. When people are forced to listen to something that bores them, the natural tendency is to daydream. Daydreaming is a sure fire way to tune out the speaker, and miss details of the speech. Engaging in an undemanding activity, like doodling, keeps them from daydreaming without distracting too much from what they are listening to. Of course, a line must be drawn if doodling is to truly support memory function. Simple scribbles, shapes, and shadings are helpful. However, when you begin to actually plan and concentrate on the doodles, it becomes art, and potentially distracting. So next time you find yourself drifting during a long-winded presentation, pick up your pen and start doodling. You might just be surprised by your own intellect!
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