Study Says Mindless Doodling Improves Memory

  by Heather Mayer  |  February 27th, 2009  |  Published in All, Blog

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Good news for college students and meeting-goers everywhere. A study released today, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, suggests that mindless doodling might actually improve memory.

Subjects listened to a "dull phone message," and those who were told to color shapes while listening to the message had a 29 percent imp`roved memory recall compared to non-doodling subjects.

The phone message listed names of people going to a party and party locations. Those who doodled during the message recalled an average of 7.5 of the eight party-goers and eight locations compared to 5.9 by the non-doodlers.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," says Jackie Andrade, University of Plymouth researcher, in a press release. "Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task."

In addition to recalling names and locations, subjects who doodled also recalled other information from the message, suggesting doodling allowed for better concentration, Andrade further explained in an email response.

“Although we didn’t test understanding, my assumption is that they would have understood material better too,” she says.

This gives promise to students and business people stuck in a boring lecture or meeting who might be scolded for "not paying attention," when in fact, they’re more likely to recall the information if allowed to doodle.

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  1. SueL says:

    February 28th, 2009 at 3:10 pm (#)

    Interesting! I use this trick to stay conscious during boring presentations. Good to know it improves memory as well.

  2. James says:

    February 28th, 2009 at 8:15 pm (#)

    Something every teacher should be made aware of, immediately. How many children are told on a daily basis by the teacher to “stop doodling and pay attention!”. If they only knew that the doodling was actually a very good thing to be doing maybe more children wouldn’t get grounded for bad test scores.

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  4. julie says:

    March 3rd, 2009 at 11:05 am (#)

    My daughter who was in 8th grade last year actually did her science fair project on doodling and how it affects attention. She came up with the idea based on her own experience of doodling in class. At the time, she could not find any research studies on the topic. Her project made it all the way to the state level. Her study also proved that not only did the students feel they were able to pay attention better to the lecture but did better on the comprehension test that followed. Interesting isn’t it?

  5. Aaron says:

    March 14th, 2009 at 9:52 pm (#)

    Actually, it’s pretty reasonable. Because after some time passing, the concentration you have is becoming frail and it’s highly impossible for you to fall sleep and avoid this problem,doodling can be very important way. The problem is people might scold you because of less attention you’re paying or actually this is how they think.

  6. Meghan says:

    March 15th, 2010 at 6:30 am (#)

    My name is meghan and i is cool that u post this. I am doing a science project on doodling and memory enhanceing and im interested in what u said.
    so i thank u increadibly.

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  13. compulsive doodler says:

    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:11 pm (#)

    In my opinion, “doodling” is different from “coloring” or “shading” shapes. While coloring and shading is a “mindless” activity (repetitive and uncreative), a true doodler will use a lot of creativity: discovering what shapes a blob can morph into, adding color, tone, storylines, or copying the shape of someone’s face. All of this takes cognitive thought which simple shading and coloring does not require. I’d be interested to know if doodling (in the sense where creativity is being harnessed) would yield the same results. My guess is no.

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  36. What’s in a Doodle? « Nybble at the Surface says:

    September 20th, 2012 at 9:21 am (#)

    [...] are people out there who doodle, there are an equal number of people who dislike the habit. In a recent study, it was suggested that mindless doodling can actually improve one’s memory! (This is [...]

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