What does a doodle do? It boosts your memory and concentration

You know you’re bored when you start shading in the squares of your notebook. Apparently it’s a habit that could be helping you to concentrate. In a neat little experiment, Jackie Andrade asked forty participants to listen to a monotone two and a half minute phone message about arrangements for a party. They were told the message would be dull, that there was no need to memorise it, but that they should write down the names of the people who would be able to attend the party. Crucially, half the participants were also told to ‘doodle’ as they listened, by shading in the squares and circles of their note-paper.

Afterwards, the doodlers had noted fractionally more of the correct names (7.8 on average vs. 7.1 – a statistically significant difference). What’s more, moments later, the doodlers also excelled in a surprise memory test of the guests’ names and the places mentioned in the message, recalling 29 per cent more details than the non-doodlers.

Andrade said more research is obviously needed to find out how doodling helps us maintain our attention. However, her theory is that by using up slightly more mental resources, doodling helps prevent the mind from wandering off the boring primary task into daydream land. This study is part of an emerging recognition in psychology that secondary tasks aren’t always a distraction from primary tasks, but can sometimes actually be beneficial.

Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (1), 100-106 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1561

5 thoughts on “What does a doodle do? It boosts your memory and concentration”

  1. Awesome post. I've always been more productive listening to instrumental music while working. My hypothesis was that that the music was interesting enough to keep my subconscious occupied but not inviting enough (because it had no lyrics) to distract me. In some way, I feel like my hypothesis has been proven by this study…post hoc fallacy and all. hahaha

    Thanks for a great post.


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  2. I have seen many children (my own included) be penalized for doodling on worksheets, homework or tests. I disagreed with this, but could do little to convince the teachers. Form over substance and very detrimental to my daughter's psyche as an anxiety ridden 7 year old


  3. this study invites two further questions
    one is whether there is any connection with that embryonic field in which it is said that eye blink or (is it called saccadic?) left to right eye movements can enhance cognitive performance – we have audio input of data plus visual monitoring of a minor motor task and a challenge to discover the conditions in which such dual modal activities are beneficial, or not
    any link with the other area of evidence in which we now think that it detracts from driver performance to be chatting on a mobile (or listening to a fixed radio?)

    Mallory Wober


  4. i always doodle in class and the teacher gives me into trouble. now i can tell her that i'm trying to concentrate!!!



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