Doodle? Do, to Improve Concentration
Do you want to get the very most out of reading this blog?
How about doodling while you read it?
A small study in the upcoming issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that, while many of us assume doodling reveals a certain inattentiveness, it may in fact help us focus when confronted with boring tasks.
Researchers from the school of psychology at the University of Plymouth in the UK had 20 people listen to a long (2 1/2-minute) phone message and note on a sheet of ruled paper the names of people mentioned in that message as planning to attend a fictitious party. The message (which you can read in its mundane entirety at the end of the study) contained many bluffs and red herrings but was otherwise, well, boring.
Another 20 people were assigned the same task but asked to color in pre-printed shapes on a piece of paper they were given. They were asked not to worry about how many they colored in or how neat they were and were told to record the names of party-attenders in the margin of their doodle sheet.
The coloring activity was meant to approximate random doodling; the researchers didn't have participants invent their own doodles for fear the doodlers would think the doodles were the point of the research and would be evaluated as part of the experiment. That concern might have skewed the results, researchers explained.
After listening to the phone message, participants were asked to list the names of the party-goers and the names of places mentioned on the tape. The doodlers did a 29-percent better job than the non-doodlers, coming up with an average of 7.5 names of people and places versus the non-doodlers' 5.8 names.
Researchers think doodling may help boost concentration and recall in one, or both, of two ways. It might prevent us from sliding fully into day-dreaming mode, keeping us anchored in a concrete activity. Doodling might also help us maintain just the right level of mental "arousal" that keeps our brains just interested enough to gather what we need from a conversation or phone call.
The work has implications for the workplace and the classroom, the study notes; more research is needed to pinpoint the effects of actual free-form doodling.
I doodle constantly while on the phone (unless I'm conducting an interview, when I'm busy scribbling notes) and did so all the time when I was in school, from grade school through grad school. I've never stopped to consider whether doing so has been beneficial or detrimental -- but, all things considered, my devotion to doodling seems not to have done much damage.
Do you doodle? Do you get after your kids for doodling on school papers or book covers? Does this study -- though small -- make you reconsider doodling's worth in the world?
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