Turns out, doodling during class—or meetings—may actually help your concentration. (If only the same were true for texting.)
By Dina Fine Maron
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Feb 26, 2009
In a victory for absent-minded scribblers everywhere, one study now suggests that doodling can help your memory. Though research suggests multitasking or daydreaming can be distracting, psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth in England thought it might be a different story for a simple task like doodling.
She asked 40 adult volunteers to listen to a monotonous mock telephone message about a party. Half the participants were told to doodle (filling in some random printed shapes) while listening to the message and to write down mentioned partygoers' names but to ignore all the other information. The other half were told to do the same, except they weren't given the doodling option. Later all 40 listeners were asked what they remembered from the message on a surprise memory test. The results, published online Thursday in Applied Cognitive Psychology, suggest that the doodlers actually had better recall: on average they remembered 29 percent more information, and they also wrote down more partygoers' names accurately.
Andrade spoke with NEWSWEEK's Dina Fine Maron about the virtues of doodling, and why texting might be the anti-doodle. Excerpts:
MARON: Why do a study on doodling?
ANDRADE: I was interested in daydreaming, although we didn't actually measure daydreaming. When you have something really boring to do in a laboratory, you aren't just doing that task—you are thinking about shopping, picking the kids up from school, what you're going to have for tea. We don't usually take those things into account. Daydreaming takes up a lot of mental energy and can be distracting. I had the idea that maybe some small, simple task would catch just enough energy to keep you focused on the [main] task at hand, and though it wouldn't make the task you're doing less boring, it could help you focus.
What are the implications for someone in a school setting?
Doodling can be a good thing. If there's a choice between doodling and daydreaming, you're better off if your students are doodling. Of course, it's best if you aren't boring them at all, but doodling isn't necessarily a sign of your students being naughty—it's a sign that it may be hard for them to concentrate without something visual.
You are a professor, right?
So, in light of your findings, will you be more willing to allow your students to doodle in class?
I think I might be. If it's a sign of them being bored, then it would worry me a bit. Really, they're more likely to text each other, though.
Do you think texting also helps them with their memory?
No, I think not. I think that's them just being distracted.