Doodling: Time Waster or High End Engagement Technique?
by Jack Woller, Associate Director of GRCM
It feels disrespectful. A figurative slap in the face to others in the room, and it’s something
I can’t help. Doodling. In every meeting I attend and every college class I ever took, I collected page after page of doodles. It helped me. Though it may have appeared that I was off in another land, it was quite the opposite. With the action of doodling, my attention was kept more on the subject matter and those around me Instead of, say, how many ceiling tiles were in the room or that bird outside the window. Long thought to be the work of the disinterested and unengaged, recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design has shown the true benefits of doodles.
The true beauty of the benefit of doodling is its multifaceted outcomes. Research has shown doodling can help individuals stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information. A designer may be doodling and have the doodle inspire an even more creative design within their brain. A student may use doodling as a release of tension and prevent boredom, thus allowing them to participate in a classroom environment. Allowing your brain some space to stretch out via pen and paper promotes increased creativity and collaboration. It can also be the first step in idea refinement. Let’s look a little bit more at some of these “facets”.
Memory- In a 2009 APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY study by Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth UK, forty participants were subjected to a monotonous voicemail message of a list of names of people attending a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned a “doodling” condition in which they shaded printed shapes while listening to the call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.
Engagement- It was long suspected that what one doodled provided a window into the psyche. A hypothesis not upheld by a 2011 study by The Lancet Medical Journal. Instead it appears that it engages the “default networks” region of the brain that maintains a baseline of activity in the cerebral cortex when outside stimuli are not present, allowing the brain to be engaged and not “Day Dreaming”.
Retention- Similar to memory but in this case we are talking about retaining broader ideas, theories and issues. Doodling can provide an alternate path to learning for some people. When I doodle in a meeting there may be some meeting specific words interspersed amongst organic waves or vines. Then when I go back to that doodle later, my brain pulls the entire meeting together and I’ve retained much of what I heard in the meeting. It’s my brain’s default networks allowing an alternate path to learning, and more importantly retention.
Communication- An ever present challenge for everyone. In a 2014 study by Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor emeritus of architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. A doodle can spark a “dialog between the mind and the hand holding a pencil and the eyes that perceive the marks on paper”. Doodles are also able to express emotions too complex for traditional communication venues. Ten doodlers in a four-week study were asked to share their sketches on social media. Many of the doodle posts expressed complex emotions they wouldn’t normally have shared via posts or texts. In these cases doodling gives just another method of complex communication.
So, does it matter what you are doodling? Sometimes. Doodling is a subjective, individually driven thing that cannot be done wrong. Doodling puts your brain in a state of readiness (the afore mentioned “default network”) and keeps you active and engaged. So in your next meeting or class give your brain a literal blank sheet of paper, a pen and get doodling.
Citations and Further Reading
Andrade, Jackie. “What Does Doodling Do?” Applied Cognitive Psychology (2009) 24: 100-106
Schott, GD. “Doodling and the Default Network of the Brain.” The Lancet 378.9797 (2011): 1133-134.
Shellenbarger, Sue. “The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 24 July 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.