527: Doodling

Do you doodle?


Full episode script

Possibly because of its popularity in college classrooms and meetings, or possibly just because of the fact that it seems to be a fairly universal experience — there’s a lot of research around doodling.

Doodles have been found pretty much anywhere that humans have some kind of writing stick and medium, including margins of medieval texts, from when writing was a cherished and uncommon skill.

One of the most commonly-cited studies about doodling was one done in 2009 by Jackie Andrade. That study asked participants to doodle by filling in pre-defined boxes while listening to a monotonous voicemail message. Those that doodled, as opposed to only listening to the message, tended to have better recall and understanding of what had been in the message.

However, not everyone doodles merely by filling in pre-existing boxes on a sheet of paper.  A study out of UNLV took a very close look at this study and created a partner study in an attempt to replicate and further investigate these results. That study tested a few additional variables — free-form doodling, structured doodling, note-taking, and just listening. The study participants were limited to only what they had been assigned — so the note-takers were not allowed to doodle in the margins. That study found that, quote:

The results indicated that participants in the unstructured doodling condition performed significantly worse than those in the structured doodling and note-taking condition.

Yet, as an essay on Harvard Health points out, even unstructured doodling can be very useful. Specifically, quote:

A report on the learning styles of medical students (who generally have to absorb large amounts of information) indicated that even they may find doodling helpful, as long as they limit the time they do it. A simple 30-minute doodle helps them remember information, fills in gaps in their thinking, and provides a much-needed reprieve from the loads of information they must wade through.

There’s a lot more research out there about doodling and the value there may be in it — but it seems like most of it comes down to if it helps you engage your automatic brain so your focus-brain can pay attention, all the better.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.