Doodling is the art of absent-mindedly drawing small, simple pictures or designs. But is doodling really so absent-minded? Many of the greatest artists, poets, scholars, and even presidents doodled consistently throughout their careers, oftentimes saying it helped them to focus or retain essential information.
In the past, this notion was not taken seriously – but now, there is substantial evidence to suggest that doodling can genuinely improve memory function, stress management, and our ability to listen.
Doodling and Memory
A study completed in 2009 by psychologist Jackie Andrade asked 40 adults to endure just over 2 minutes of boring voice mail messages while subtly being provided with a paper and pen.
Not knowing that they would be tested on their ability to retain the information being spoken in the voice mail, half of the subjects decided to entertain themselves by doodling on the paper, while the other half did not. When asked what the information in the voice mail was, those who had doodled were able to remember 29% more than those who did not.
The research behind experiments like this one suggest that doodling allows our brains to remain passively active, maintaining a consistent sense of mental engagement and ultimately making us more receptive to absorbing new information.
In the face of stress or anxiety, doodling can be an unlikely ally. In the same way that doodling can help us passively absorb information, it can also be used as a tool for passively working through subconscious (or conscious) thoughts or feelings that are causing us distress.
Doodling opens up a new space in the brain that may either be used for focus or relaxation – depending on what you need most at the time. Most of the time, doodles are random and unplanned, opening up a creative channel for clogged-up thoughts and anxieties to exit in an easy and effortless fashion. Colouring in books are used in a similar context, as a method for winding down and entering into a meditative-like state that promotes relaxation and stress relief.
Listening to Others
Contrary to what many parents and teachers may want to believe, doodling and drawing while listening to somebody speak can be extremely useful for absorbing auditory information.
By continuously stimulating the mind, doodling while listening ensures that people with difficulties around sitting still can remain engaged without losing track of the information being presented to them. For somebody who has a neurological disability (or simply struggles to maintain focussed for extended periods of time) having the permission to doodle while in a lecture or meeting can dramatically increase the likelihood of retaining important information. Mindful creative practises like doodling, playing the best games online and colouring in are slowly but surely making their way into mainstream methods for stress relief and memory retention. In future, maybe our teachers and bosses will think twice before telling us to put the pen down!