by Daniele Selby
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 http://www.newsweek.com/id/186738
Schaffhausen, J. (2006, July 25) Multitasking May Harm Memory. ABC News. Retrieved March 4, 2010 from, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=2230735
Wiley-Blackwell (2009, March 5). Do Doodle: Doodling Can Help Memory Recall. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/02/090226210039.htm