February 27, 2009

Doodling: Good For The Mind

Although doodling in class while listening to the teacher may be perceived as a mind-wandering activity, researchers have reported evidence that suggests the activity may actually help the human mind retain information.

Researchers from Plymouth University conducted memory tests on 40 members of the research panel of the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. The test asked participants to listen to a two and a half minute phone call and recall the eight names and eight places.

Twenty of the participants were asked to shade in shapes on a piece of paper at the same time, but paying no attention to neatness.

None of the participants were told it was a memory test.

Those who listened to the call while doodling were able to recall 29 percent more information compared to non-doodling volunteers, researchers said.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," said study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D., of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth.

"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 psychology, tests of memory or attention will often use a second task to selectively block a particular mental process. If that process is important for the main cognitive task then performance will be impaired. My research shows that beneficial effects of secondary tasks, such as doodling, on concentration may offset the effects of selective blockade," said Andrade.

"This study suggests that in everyday life doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing."

Professor Alan Badeley, from the British Psychological Society, told BBC Health:

"Doodling is a relatively undemanding task so this makes sense. The temptation during meetings or telephone conversations that you are not particularly engaged with is to start thinking about things. You visualize things such as holidays. That then takes you away from the task at hand. Or you may even end up nodding off."

"However, by comparison, doodling is not that taxing and keeps you more alert so you are more likely to absorb what is being said," he added.


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