A new study published in the February 26th journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that doodling while listening actually can encourage memorization of facts and events. The UK’s Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, U.K., tasked 40 members to participate in the study, which required them to listen to a 2 1/2 minute tape giving several names of people and places, and were told to write down only the names of people going to a party.
Half of that group were asked to shade in shapes on a piece of paper at the same time, not attending to neatness. Participants did not know it was a memory test and were not told directly to doodle naturally.
After the exercise, all participants were asked to recall the eight names of party-goers, and eight additional place names which were included in the tape as incidental information. The doodlers were able to recall 7.5 names of people and places compared to only 5.8 for the non-doodlers.
Apparently, if someone is completing a boring task, like listening to a lecture or seminar, it is easy to let the mind wander to more interesting things. The act of doodling may rewire synapses in a way that keeps part of the brain available for the boring listening task, while the fidgety part of the brain has something to do with itself.
This could suggest that those that doodle, fidget, or otherwise make use of their hands may be looking for a way to help keep the brain on-track with the boring, but necessary activity.
I wonder, myself, why I listen so much better to podcasts when I’m alone in the car than I do riding in the car or sitting in a waiting room. In the car my hands and presumably my eyes are occupied with driving the daily commute, leaving the listening part of my brain ready and willing to absorb the spoken words of a podcaster. Or maybe it’s the reverse, that the driving is the boring part, and my mind is being enlivened by the podcaster, which then keeps me on task with the boring commute thing.
Either way, more interesting facts about the brain and how it operates in daily life. Now when my boss tells me to stop scribbling in my notebook during a meeting, I can tell her that I’m doodling to help my brain concentrate better on the meeting. She’ll buy that, I’m sure.