Doodling and attention
Like a perpetually active toddler, the human brain constantly demands stimulation. When you’re in a setting that’s noticeably devoid of stimuli (say, on a long plane ride, or in an ultra-boring meeting) your brain compensates by creating its own stimulation in the form of daydreams. And while zoning out is a fine way to pass the time, it’s a dismal way to absorb information. Doodling, on the other hand, engages the brain’s planning and concentration centres just enough to keep you living in the moment – and according to some researchers, it may be even more effective for retaining information than active listening. In one study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects who monitored a monotonous phone message for names of party guests recalled 29 percent more information later if they were doodling during the call. Meanwhile, in a 2012 study of science students who were asked to draw what they learned during lectures and reading sessions, doodlers not only retained more information, but also reported more enjoyment and engagement with the material.
Doodling and memory
In general, multitasking lowers cognitive performance on tasks, makes you think harder than you have to, and decreases productivity. However, recent experiments out of Waterloo University suggest that doodling might be an exception. In a series of tests, subjects were given 40 seconds to either draw a word in detail or write it by hand as many times as they could. When quizzed later, doodlers recalled more than twice as many words as writers did. Give this a try in your next meeting: Don’t just write down the crucial points – draw them.
Doodling and mindfulness
So, doodlers, your pen is moving and your brain is engaged – do you feel the zen yet? According to Jesse Prinz, a philosophy professor at City University of New York Graduate Center, doodling keeps participants in a state of “pure listening” that borders on meditation. “Doodling helps hit that sweet spot between listening too much and listening too little,” Prinz says. “It keeps you in a state where your mind can’t wander, and your mind can’t also reflect or think more deeply about what you’re hearing… it’s to such a great extent that if I do not doodle, I find myself having difficulty concentrating.” With your mind so engaged, it becomes hard not to feel yourself in the present moment. And with meditation comes relaxation.