Psychology in the News

May 10, 2010

Doodle your way to better memory

Filed under: attention, learning, memory — Tags: , , , , , — intro2psych @ 10:00 am

by Daniele Selby

Doodling and notetaking by itselea

Doodle and photograph by itselea

How often do you daydream in class? Or when your mother lectures you, or when your friend tells you minute by minute what happened in the their day. Chances are you remember very little of what was said in those encounters. The same goes for studying while watching the television – sometimes it makes it harder to remember what you read. Generally, multitasking while trying to acquire new knowledge has a negative effect. Multitasking while learning can interfere with the recollection of the knowledge later (Schaffhausen, 2006). Yet interestingly, a new study has found some evidence that a specific kind of multitasking, doodling to be exact, can help memory recall.

At Plymouth University researchers performed memory tests on 40 volunteers. During these tests the subjects were asked to listen to a phone call and recall the names and places mentioned during the call afterwards. The call lasted two and minutes. Half of the volunteers were asked to doodle by coloring in shapes on a piece of paper, during the phone call. The subjects were not required to do so neatly, or with any amount of detail and attention. The other half were allowed to do as they pleased during the call. All the subjects were warned that the content of the phone call would be rather un-stimulating, and none were told this was a test of memory. Following the phone call the subjects were asked to explicitly name eight places and eight names mentioned during the call. On average, those who doodled recalled 7.5 of the required pieces of data while those who did not doodle only recalled 5.8.

It is believed that those who doodled were better able to recall the contents of the phone call because they stayed engaged during the call, rather than daydreaming or allowing their minds to wander. While doodling is a form of multitasking and might sound distracting, the level of attention and engagement which takes place while doodling – not drawing – is significantly less than that which takes place when day dreaming. People are more detached from their doodles than they are involved in their daydreams.

When testing memory and/or attention, second tasks are often used to block a particular mental process. If that process is essential to the performance of the main cognitive task at hand, then the performance of the task will be affected. The performance of the task is likely to be impaired if the second task interferes with the mental process. But this does not seem to be the case with doodling. Perhaps the reason we are inclined to doodle in the first place is that it helps us recall things we learn. There is no certain conclusion yet as to why doodling seems to help recall, but maybe this is evidence enough for all of us students to start scribbling.


Maron, D. F. (2009, February 26) Doodle Zone. Newsweek. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from

Schaffhausen, J.  (2006, July 25) Multitasking May Harm Memory. ABC News. Retrieved March 4, 2010 from,

Wiley-Blackwell (2009, March 5). Do Doodle: Doodling Can Help Memory Recall. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2010, from­ /releases/2009/02/090226210039.htm


  1. I have always heard that doodling helps memory, but I wonder if that is just better than sitting/daydreaming, or if the benefits of doodling extend beyond simple note taking. It seems that every study I look for assumes the subject is incapable of simply paying attention and taking notes, that they must doodle or daydream, in which case yes I would assume that doodling is more productive. what about doodling something from a daydream?

    I was unable to find a study that addressed my questions, but I just thought I would throw it out there and maybe someone could expand the study to include these concerns.

    Comment by patty walton — May 10, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  2. I think this is an interesting contrast to the post on multitasking: doodling often gets lumped in with other methods of multitasking such as texting and watching TV. It also may have something to do with the type of task being attempted: all that is required to pass a memory test is to pay attention in a fairly passive way, while things like homework or essay-writing are much more cognitively demanding and, I believe, would be much harder to perform while doodling.

    Comment by Heather K — May 18, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  3. wouldn’t doodling something from a daydream snap you out of the daydream?

    Comment by fatemanoor — August 22, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

    • Not necessarily. I think for some, especially artists, the doodle would just follow in a stream from the daydream onto paper. At any rate, it would be very hard to tell if they subjects were simultaneously doodling, daydreaming, and listening to the phone call during the study.

      Comment by Anonymous — March 28, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  4. Heather K brought up a very good point at the end of her comment, which is to say that something like doodling, which is impossible to do while writing an essay since your hands are already occupied, can not be labeled as multitasking. I know from personal experience that i usually shake, or bounce my leg during class to stay focused on the lecture, because without it, I would be bothered too much by the stillness of the the room and myself. It is similar to doodling, in that it keeps our nervous energy in a form that does not distract us from the lecture, or in the case of the study, the phone call, and allows us to focus more closely on what is being said. So it seems that while splitting your attention between your work and the television while multitasking might impair your ability to do the work, doing something mindless like doodling, does not divert your attention from what is being said to you.

    Comment by Michael Haugbro — February 4, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

  5. I found this post extremely relevant, and in my experiences, doodling does help with memory. Doodling, compared to daydreaming, is much less absorbing and my mind is at least able to pay attention to most of what is going on. Not only is it less distracting, I find that I am more alert because I am physically and actively doing something. I do wonder, though, whether eating would be as effective as doodling because I find that if I am snacking on something while studying, I am much more alert because (like doodling) I am physically and actively doing something (chewing). Also, eating (if you are snacking and not eating a full meal) does not require much concentration and your mind is, therefore, more detached than when you are doing other tasks. Though, I do admit that regular snacking while eating is much less healthier than doodling – even if it is effective!

    Comment by Elizabeth Ngo — February 10, 2012 @ 12:23 am

    • Hi roommate! Your post, especially the comments on eating, reminded me of a memory trick I remember hearing about some time ago. Supposedly, chewing gum while studying or taking tests improves your performance. I don’t know if there are any studies that have been done to corroborate this gum trick, but I’d be interested to find out if, like you said, other similarly thoughtless tasks have the same effect as doodling does on memory performance.

      Comment by Gianna Constantine — March 28, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

  6. After reading this post, I remembered that in grade school, I had a teacher who had attached small pieces of velcro to each desk so that kinesthetic learners would be able to tap their fingers or pens/pencils to their content without disrupting the rest of this class. Though I don’t doodle during class now with the same fervor that I did in high school, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to pick up once again. I do wonder what effect, if any, the subjects’ being forewarned about the boring nature of the phone calls had on the groups, particularly the group not explicitly asked to doodle.

    Comment by Matt Allan — February 16, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  7. This is interesting, but it sounds to me like they only conducted the experiment once for all volunteers. Thinking about it, wouldn’t it be possible that the group of volunteers told to do whatever they wanted during the call and coincidentally remembered fewer details from the call could have just been less attentive people overall compared to the general population?

    Comment by Jon Lee — February 21, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

  8. It’s interesting to note how we tend respond more positively to visual stimulus when it comes to remembering several details in a scenario. The effectiveness of drawing and doodling seems to allow us to better encode certain details which gives us the ability to retrieve these thoughts easier later on. Some studies have been held, which support this idea relating to drawing and the improved ability to recollect details. A study conducted had a group of children describe a certain event that they saw by drawing the scene and another group described it vocally. It was found that the children who drew the scenario were able to recall more accurate details about the event than those who spoke about it when asked about the event a month later. This goes to further support the effective role that drawing or doodling has in facilitating the retrieval and recollection of memory at a future instance in time.

    Source: Butler, Sarnia; Gross, Julien; Hayne, Harlene. Developmental Psychology 31. 4 (Jul 1995): 597-608.

    Comment by Marvin Ponce — February 28, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

  9. My sixth grade English teacher always told my class that it was important to doodle for 5 minutes before we started writing an essay. She would staple a blank piece of paper to each of our essay booklets and required that the extra paper be used for doodling. Similar to the study in this post, she was convinced that doodling was a great concentration technique. I found it easier to concentrate and generate new ideas for my essays.
    Besides concentration, do you think that doodling might also help mental creativity even if those doodles are unrelated to your topic?

    Comment by Jacqueline Palma — March 1, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

  10. I find it really interesting that a task like doodling could actually help our recall of certain information. One would think that doodling usually functions as a distraction, drawing you away from whatever sensory information that is being presented. I also believe that the outcome of this study depends highly on what kind of information a subject is asked to recall. Names and places seem somewhat easier to remember, because most likely, the subject has heard of them before in their life, or have encountered similar context in which they can subconsciously fit the information. I wonder if a subject were to be asked to recall specific facts or concepts, would the outcome still be the same whether or not they were doodling during the time of the call?

    Comment by Claire S. — March 1, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  11. I agree with Patty. I’m kind of confused here…the study states that doodling helps us better recall things we learn, but is that really what was tested? Perhaps I am reading it wrong (and someone can help me better understand), but from what I can tell, this study only tested the difference in recall between those who doodled and those who did other things during the phone call. None of the subjects were told it was a memory test, so I doubt those who didn’t doodle made an effort to focus all of their attention on the call.

    Therefore, I think the only thing that can be stated is that doodling allows for better recall than other types of multi-tasking (such as daydreaming, watching TV, etc.) I would venture to guess that if half the subjects doodled and the other half focused 100% of their attention on what they were hearing, the latter group would have better (perhaps significantly so) recall. Perhaps what I just said is obvious, but then I am uncertain why the study made the conclusion it did. Or once again, perhaps I am reading it wrong. :)

    Comment by Jasdeep Achreja — March 2, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  12. It certainly seems feasible that doodling without direction or detail would not adversely affect recall but rather help it, since one is detached from their drawings but kept engaged and prevented from daydreaming. But it is interesting to think that individuals would choose to doodle rather than just focus through note taking and attention to the speaker. The tests performed, memory recall from a phone call, focused on a somewhat passive test to begin with in that it’s not very cognitively challenging. Conversely, tasks such as note-taking and studying are far more mentally demanding. During such tasks as these, the reason a person doodles is that the task is dull and tedious. Therefore, the doodling would most likely impair the main cognitive task because that person is naturally inattentive to that particular topic.

    Comment by Curtis Smith — March 2, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  13. Focusing on doodling is an interesting approach for researching multitasking, but I am not convinced that this experiment proves doodling improves memory. The people who were not given the definite task of doodling, especially after being told it will be an un-stimulating conversation, could have been generally less focused. On the other hand, those asked to doodle could have been generally more aroused by the experiment, thus, resulted in having a higher degree of recollection. Generally, in my experience, doodling results from daydreaming or not focusing on the task at hand. Because the subjects were asked to doodle throughout the phone conversation, I feel like this experiment is less accurate than it would be if the researchers formed the two groups by which people began to doodle on their own.

    Comment by Hannah Van Demark — March 19, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  14. When taking notes in class, you may start daydreaming or doodling. I believe that doodling can be both distracting and helpful depending on the person. For me, I find that when I doodle, even if it does not require any thought, I am still distracted from class. Doodling something that is completely unrelated to the lecture veers me away from what we are learning and I remember less. Other people may benefit from doodling because they may have more of a creative brain. I do agree that doodling can help some people’s memory, but I believe that it is based on the person and how they learn best.

    Comment by Ava — April 11, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

  15. I found this blog post to be extremely interesting because I doodle while listening to lectures in almost every class. In this experiment performed at Plymouth University I noticed that half the participants were asked to doodle, no matter if they normally do while listening to a conversation, lectures, etc. This made me curious as to if people who normally doodle were able to focus on the conversation being held better than people who do not normally doodle, but were forced to. This could sway the results if a significant amount of the participants in the doodling group normally doodle to focus their attention, because this would only aid their memory. Also, as Jacqueline questioned earlier, I am very curious to see if what someone doodles effects their memory recall. If someone is making an intricate detailed drawing as a doodle instead of a stick-figure, will they remember less of what is being said?

    Comment by Leigh Anne Baldwin — April 15, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  16. I find that doodling while listening to someone speak on the phone or listening to a professor lecture helps me focus my attention on the words they are saying, rather than letting my eyes wander around, causing me to daydream. I also sometimes find it more useful to listen to what the lecturer is saying while doodling, rather than rushing to write down exactly what they say when taking notes, because when doing the latter, I don’t always gain an understanding of what is being said. I understand what I am being told better when I listen to the speaker with my undivided attention, and it is easier for me to give them my attention when I focus my motor functions on the mindless act of doodling. Perhaps it depends on how each individual learns best (visually, verbally, etc.)

    Comment by Nicole M — April 25, 2012 @ 11:59 am

  17. I find that when I begin doodling during a lecture, it is because I have already begun to lose focus and daydream. The doodles are just a physical expression of my lack of focus. Because the subjects in this experiment were asked to doodle rather than being compelled to do so on their own, it is not surprising that their attention was not diverted by their doodles. The doodling done by the subjects of this experiment held no personal significance. I can definitely see how a teacher telling their students to doodle for a few minutes before an essay or note taking could be helpful. This would help them to get any distracting ideas out of the way. But in a normal classroom environment, I am not so sure that doodling during a lecture would be helpful.

    Comment by Carly Belko — April 30, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  18. What I find so strange about this article is that one has to be doodling, but not really paying attention to the doodle for it to have any effect on recall. How often does that happen? Often when I am doodling it is because what is going on around me is boring or uninteresting and so I get more absorbed in the drawing than the doodle. I wonder how applicable this is to daily life if one has to be able to doodle without paying attention to it.

    However, I do think it is pretty cool that sometimes drawing can actually improve memory because if I can figure out how to do it correctly, this would help me a lot in class.

    Comment by Maddy Vogel — May 3, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  19. Sadly when I look back in high school, whenever I doodled in class out of boredom, I wouldn’t retain much of anything the teacher had talked about. Perhaps the fact that the subjects knew they were in an experiment influenced them to pay more attention regardless of the fact that they were informed that it was not a memory test.

    Comment by Jonathan Lee — May 8, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  20. I read this post a few months ago, and since then I have thought quite a bit about it in class- especially my psych class. I thought it was really interesting because I get easily distracted by the slightest things- noise, movements, my imagination. So I tried doodling in class to see if this actually helped my memory and unfortunately it didn’t really work for me. I ended up just being distracted but I really wish it worked. Maybe it has something to do with paying too much attention to the drawing and not note –taking and we all know how attention, encoding and sensory memory works. If you don’t pay attention, you miss it.

    Comment by Sascha Magnus — May 9, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  21. This post reminded me of a Latin class I took in middle school. On the first day of class, the teacher declared that she was okay with the students doodling in class. I, for one, was very confused that she was encouraging what seemed then a distraction from her lectures. She didn’t share my concern and for good reason. This article gave me the clarity I needed to understand her methods.

    However, I must agree with Carly Belko and her comment above. I have heard before that drawing improves memory. So, it makes sense that the subjects asked to draw remembered more than the other subjects.

    Comment by Taylor Nunley — October 6, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

  22. This post proves my need to doodle all the time in class. It never made sense to me as to why I did it, and why somehow I still remembered what I had learned in class. This theory makes sense now because doodling does not take that much cognitive effort to allow you to stop paying attention, but it does use enough energy to stop you from daydreaming.
    Although this theory makes sense, I believe that this test is not enough to prove such a theory. The test had very few participants, and the test subjects that were allowed to do as they wish were not a very reliable source. Some could’ve just sat still while others could’ve been keeping busy doing something else, which could’ve served as a distraction. I think the test could’ve been more specific towards the subjects that were not doodling.
    Besides that, this post is very interesting and knowledgable. Doodling has now become a helpful tool rather than an unexplained habit of mine.

    Comment by Tatiana Londono — October 8, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  23. I think that this post is very well written, and that there is something to be said for the beneficial effect of doodling while taking in new information. Sometimes for me, even taking notes can be a mindless task, where I am not paying attention but simply writing what I hear. I am a very visual learner, so it is easier for me to just look at something and remember it, and oftentimes, if I draw during class, I associate whatever I was drawing at that point with both the words on the page, and with what the teacher is saying (i.e. if we are given a note sheet, as we are in psych), and have an easier time remembering whole concepts when I go to study them. I would however, be interested in learning more about the study, and what significance tests were used. Also, with a sample size as small as 40 (often seen as the cutoff or bare minimum for meaningful statistical analysis with a normal curve), I would be interested in whether or not there are other studies that have tested similar hypotheses before being completely sold on the ideas put forth in this article.

    Comment by A.J. (Alexander) Cincotta-Eichenfield — October 11, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

  24. I think this post is interesting because it makes a larger argument that certain activities can remove memory. However, while I am comforted by the claim that my doodling during class can actually be beneficial, I have some reservations in accepting the findings in this experiment to be true. Firstly, the experiment seems to have a rather small sample size. The probability that the results were just by chance is higher than it would be for a larger sample. Secondly, there is little information as to whether this experiment was replicated to see if the results were the same.

    Comment by Shanice Garwood — October 12, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

    • *improve

      Comment by Shanice Garwood — October 12, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

  25. I don’t generally doodle in class because I have thought that it would distract me– now I am finding the opposite is true! I was always of the opinion that doodling in class would distract me from the lesson because I would become so involved in making my doodle look good, but I think an important distinction to be made is the difference between drawing and doodling. But at the same time, how would you keep yourself from beginning to draw when you mean to doodle? It seems to me as though more brain energy would be spent on making sure I was doodling in the correct manner and not drawing and I would ultimately not be able to remember instructions from a class. At the same time, I appreciate the study of memory and phone conversations with and without doodling because I always doodle when I’m on the phone and a piece of paper and pen is within reach. I also wonder though, whether the doodling-improving-memory has a connection to engaging more senses? I will try to doodle in classes from now on and see if it helps or not.

    Comment by Amanda Ballard — October 12, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  26. From my experiences, doodling isn’t the right approach because it often leads to a complete shutdown of focus and attention paid to the professor. If I start doodling, I just begin to draw and then socialize, losing track of what’s going on in class. That being said, I can see how it can work for some people. Different people have different ways of retaining information and doodling is obviously one of them. I know some people who doodle creatively around their words, filling in the blank spaces on their page, so that they capture a mental image of their notes, which helps them immensely later on when they have to remember what they wrote down. If doodling allows this mental snapshot to be clearer when it’s time to remember it, then it definitely has positive effects for students. As I was reading about the benefits of doodling, I related the concept of doodling to the idea of a mental snapshot that could later be extracted during a test, for example. A doodle could trigger a memory of what was written down in class, largely because doodles are usually memorable and stick out on a page. They aren’t as uniform as a common set of bullet points.

    Comment by Luka Ladan — November 12, 2012 @ 12:14 am

  27. I find that simple doodling such as swirls, ellipses, etc. can be helpful in staying engaged. However, when I begin actually “drawing” on my paper, with full shading and focused accuracy, I think it’s harder to concentrate. It would be an interesting study to find the relationship between the levels of focus on the class and how involved the doodles are.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 19, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  28. I agree with the comment made by Matt Allen about Kinesthetic learners and how they absorb information by “doing”, showing how a habit like doodling comes into play. It is simply a way of learning and recalling, and I also found it interesting that some commenters’ teachers have utilized and promoted this type of learning behavior. Whether it is a jittery leg, murmuring words under your breath, or snacking while reading, all of our quirky habits seem to have a beneficial effect on our learning system, whether it falls under kinesthetic, visual, or auditory learning.

    Comment by Arisa Gereda — November 24, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

  29. This experiment seems to be one which left many factors to chance. One example being that the subjects were asked to do a specific type of doodling, coloring in shapes. Personally, if I ever decide to doodle in class, I don’t retain much of what is being said. However, could it be because of what I’m doodling? Say I decided to only draw things that were discussed during the class, could this help me establish some connection to the material? Or is just scribbling enough to be an effective way to create a junction between listening and engaging that helps memory? Or perhaps is it just a method that turns out to be better than day-dreaming? Also, I would imagine that knowing you are in an experiment plays some role in your level of alertness, so are these results really significant?

    Comment by Destin McMurry — November 24, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  30. This is a great post. I immediately stopped at this post because this is something that many students do and it was really interesting to see that it could potentially be an effective method of multitasking. However, because the subjects were asked to doodle in a specific way, could that have inhibited their ability to remember more material? Also, if a person were doodling intently, wouldn’t that focus be lost on actually listening to the material being taught? I think it would be interesting to examine the level of engagement with the doodle itself and then conduct the experiment again and see effect on memory.

    Comment by Nicole Wong — February 13, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

  31. This is really relevant. I know that I tend to start doodling when I can feel myself falling asleep in class. Are there other activities that could increase our attention over time?

    Comment by Nghiem Tran — March 8, 2013 @ 10:47 am

  32. Oh I remember hearing something similar to this when I was in 9th grade!
    Your post instantly reminded me of myself during my biology class: I would doodle constantly.
    My grade in the class always remained high while my written notes always remained splattered with doodles and scribbles.
    Sometimes, however, I get carried away, and they’d often turn into higher-quality doodles.
    Most often though, they were simply shading in the side of my lined sheet of paper and rubbing my pencil lead down to a nub.
    I can agree otherwise, however, that multitasking is not the best strategy for studying. I tried listening to music while studying and found I could not retain a thing. Even when my mother is talking to me in the car when I am plugged into my music I find it hard to remember the conversation!

    Comment by Psych 105 Student — March 27, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

  33. I am a serial doodler, so this post immediately caught my attention. I am not sure, though, that I entirely believe the results of the study and what it is trying to imply. For one, from personal experience, I know that doodling most definitely does NOT help attention in class. I like to pretend that it does because it is something that I truly enjoy doing. However, after sketching yet another back-of-head profile, I am often disgruntled to find that I have no idea of how we arrived at the current topic of discussion. I have, consequently, turned to doodling only if I desperately need something to keep my attention focused to resist the temptation of a warm room or a teacher’s soothing voice. I believe that this difference between the experiment and my personal experience can be accounted for by the fact that when I doodle, I am creating a novel image. In the study, on the other hand, they were coloring something that had already been created for them. Consequently there was nothing in their activity to distract from the task of listening to the phone call. I do not believe these results are truly relevant because I would argue that this fill-in-the-shape variety of doodling is not what most students do. Nonetheless, it is interesting that a more passive form of the common doodle aids in memory (I would imagine that it has something to do with the creation of a more complex network in which to couch the given information). Perhaps, the study instead of suggesting the benefits of doodling might instead encourage students to bring in their favorite childhood coloring book to class?

    Comment by nicole01123 — April 2, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  34. This is a wonderful idea and a very interesting study. I suppose it’s possible that one day teachers will leave little areas on the sides of worksheets for the students to doodle on, assuming the hypothesis becomes more conclusive. The only problem I can see is that it is far too easy to become overly attached to one’s doodles and then pay attention to them to the exclusion of all else. This is something I’m prone to do and then I accidentally tune out the teacher’s voice. It’s not as if a teacher could tell off a student for making their doodles too precise or artistic, especially if the drawing was the teacher’s idea in the first place. On the whole, however, I feel much more vindicated in my own random sketches on all of my papers.

    Comment by Ian Kowalok — April 23, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

  35. I feel like I only doodle in class to stay awake when I get bored or when I already am distracted from the lecture. This article is making me think that even though my style of doodling doesn’t help me remember things any better than normal, maybe I can change how I doodle to help me focus and remember class material better. Maybe if I doodled about what was happening in class or if i just embellished my notes with doodles, then maybe I would remember things better.

    Comment by Mallory Tyler — April 23, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

  36. I found it interesting that you specifically mentioned that these findings only apply to doodling, as opposed to drawing. I know a lot of artistic people who line their notebooks with beautiful, detailed, and often intricate drawings, and I wonder if drawing those during lectures would have a detrimental effect similar to watching television or daydreaming.

    Comment by Sean Downing — April 30, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  37. I really enjoyed this post because it made me feel less guilty about the hours I have spent doodling in Economics class! Who would have known that all those long run equilibrium curves I turned into sweeping tidal waves with stick-figure surfers riding on top of them were actually helping me remember what was going on during the lecture. In this article you mentioned that doodling, not drawing or making art, can improve recall because you are engaged in the lecture. I wonder where the line between art and doodle is drawn; how much attention can be devoted to doodling before it becomes just as distracting as day dreaming in class?

    Comment by M.Gambs — May 1, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  38. As a student with ADD, this post greatly resonates with me because it acknowledges the difficulty of keeping focused on one under-stimulating task. Though previous research said that multitasking is harmful to learning, I have never found any feasible alternative. Very often I find myself daydreaming because I simply can’t devote that much attention to the class lecture, so it’s nice to have minor distractions that require minimal thinking as an outlet for my extra attention. In many aspects of my life I have already attempted to multitask in the least harmful way possible, such as listening to some non-distracting instrumental music while I study. Since I can’t reasonably keep 100% focused on an hour-long lecture, I’m glad there are ways to multitask without becoming entirely distracted.

    Comment by Andrew — May 5, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

  39. This was a very interesting and relevant post. One of my friends from high school used to spend all of English class doodling and claim it was necessary because without it, she had trouble paying attention to the teacher. At the time, this did not make much sense to me. These studies now make it clear that doodling really did help my friend pay attention in that class. It would be interesting to see if there is a connection between how intently a person is doodling and their level of attention in the class. It seems that if a person is very focused on their doodles, they would have a harder time focusing on what the teacher is saying. It is very interesting how doodling seems to help some students focus while it hinders the focus of other students.

    Comment by Psych 105 student — May 6, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

  40. This is a very interesting post. The reasoning for this makes sense, so long as the doodler does not get distracted and pulled into a daydream based on the doodle, etc. However, I think it would be interesting to look at the affect on memory if the doodle is related to the lecture. A friend of mine finds it very helpful, rather than taking reading notes as he does his homework, to pause every so often and draw, doodle/sketch style, an interpretation of what he has just read. This visual representation, even though most likely a very abstract representation, helps him organize, process, and solidify the information. I think this is a very interesting and helpful way of studying that could benefit a lot of people. I think it would also be interesting to see how this process would work if done during lecture.

    Comment by Eliza Kellman — May 6, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

  41. This post is oddly relevant to a recent ponderous conversation I had with some of my friends. One of my friends mentioned she doodles to keep herself from falling asleep, which sounds similar to the idea explored in this post that doodling helps if it is to prevent a person from drifting off into a daydream. Similarly, she doodled to keep her mind and pencil active enough that she wouldn’t fall asleep altogether. I, on the other hand, remember distinctly that I stopped doodling as soon as I was in a class that mattered to me, regardless of whether or not I was sleepy. Perhaps this was just my personal form of respect and irrelevant to the psychology of doodling, but I do wonder if the effects of doodling vary from person to person and if they’re more effective/have a different effect on people who are more visual.

    Comment by Aran Savory — May 14, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  42. I really liked this post. It is interesting that something most teachers would chastise us for may actually help us remember more. I often find myself doodling as a way to stay more alert and awake during class. Sometimes just sitting and listening can become tedious and I find myself missing a lot of what the professor is saying. If I doodle though I am able to stay more alert to everything around me because I am more engaged in what is happening. It makes sense that minor activity will help with memory. It reminds me of the Yerkes-Dodson Law we learned about in class where some stress and stimulation helps recall but too much hurts it. The slight stimulation from keeping the mind busy with doodling will help memory but daydreaming or drawing would take up too much focus and hurt it.

    Comment by Haley Merritt — May 15, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

  43. As a former doodler, I always found the teacher’s need to verify my attention through eye contact an absolutely oppressive practice. I always fidgeted, I always doodled, but I was usually paying attention. It felt like, for the most part, I couldn’t say the same about my classmates, and so it didn’t make sense to me that I was a serial recipient of in-class warnings.

    I feel vindicated by the study presented in this article. Although it deals with memory, to me it particularly speaks to doodling’s utility as a mitigator of boredom. Sustaining attention over an entire class period seems like a fundamentally unnatural thing for children to do. I noticed that while my friends very often dreaded class, I looked forward to it, and while some of them struggled to sit upright and make eye contact, I never bothered. Doodling seemed like a natural learning tool to me, although I would often drift away from the conversation for brief stretches. Society has set up eye contact and upright posture signs of respect and attention, and I can see why a teacher would become frustrated if a student didn’t engage in those practices. But, on the other hand, adhering to that structure within the context of another unnatural structure never really made sense to me. I wouldn’t argue for the role of doodling in a college or high school setting—every part of class is a part of the whole, each piece just about as important as another—but as a means of escaping the attention deficits that come with participating in an often mundane activity, I’m glad this study corroborates my positive experience with doodling.

    Comment by Christopher Dietz — October 9, 2013 @ 6:50 pm

  44. I tend to doodle, a lot. Doodling is a great way to stay engaged with the class, even if the subject matter isn’t as intriguing as you would like. But I also doodle to break my focus when the need arises. If the subject of conversation is heading into an area where I feel uncomfortable, or to something that I know will cause me to get dizzy and feint, I doodle. I use the doodles to bring my attention to something that I see as a neutral stimulus, and that will prevent me from feinting in the middle of class. I become more attached to these drawings, focusing on the picture I want to emerge, the details of the image and the potential for it to become a larger doodle, which in turn breaks my focus from the discussion. It would be interesting to research if doodling with more focus still keeps a person engaged in their surroundings or if it will just hinder their retention of information.

    Comment by 105 student — December 19, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

  45. This is interesting. Coming from a country outside the US, I now understand why so many US college students like doodling in class… (Just saying…) Well, I think why doodling helps improve our engagement is that it can improve our arousal level to an extent that the Yerkes-Dodson curve describes as the optimal level. Yet I think this works differently for different people. For some other people, doodling might take up so much attention that their arousal will surpass the optimal level and thus decreases their performance in other tasks. Doodling might work the same as music, that it might work for certain people, but not works for other people.

    Comment by Shiqi Lin — May 10, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

  46. This is very interesting. I doodled all the time in high school. I thought that is was negatively impacting my learning, so I decided to stop. I guess I should start doodling again, since it has a positive effect on learning.

    Comment by 105 stuudent — October 11, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

  47. This is extremely interesting and I have found this to be absolutely true in my personal life, at least in terms of school work. Maybe not doodling specifically, but the act of physically putting words on a page and writing things down does wonders for my recall. Even if I’m sitting in class reading guided notes, if I even just rewrite the notes in my own words or paraphrase something, or draw little squiggly lines connecting concepts, I remember it so much better than simply rereading the notes over and over again.

    Comment by 105 Student — December 6, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

  48. I found the distinction between the affect of drawing and the affect of doodling very relevant as I’ve realized that I have never drawn during a lecture because of the high level of attention required by both. Doodling appears to provide just enough arousal to improve the performance of recalling lecture material. Another aspect that I believe may be interesting to look at is whether this improved recall is also a result of association between the visual stimulus (doodles) and the auditory stimulus (lecture). Perhaps, each group of facts from a lecture is stored with a specific doodle in long-term memory.

    Comment by Dan Fu Ruan — December 10, 2014 @ 11:38 pm

  49. I’ve always been one to doodle as a result of my inability to pay attention, so it is really interesting for me to see that it could actually be helpful. I was always criticized by teachers when they caught be doodling, so I think its very funny to find out that I was in fact the one who was right.

    Comment by Psych Student — December 16, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

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