Kids Who Doodle
Time Waster or Concentration Booster?

One of my earliest memories is watching my mother sketch attractive whimsical faces while talking on the phone. My sons’ binders are covered with detailed dragons, elephants, and superheroes, and I am a geometric doodler, endlessly tracing triangles and squares with a pencil to stay alert. I thought doodling was a lazy habit, but a new study says there are positive benefits for memory and concentration.

Kids Who Doodle? Is it good or bad?Scribble Research
Current research suggests the state of the brain during boredom looks more like a busy bee than a lazy bum. In an article in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Jackie Andrade, a professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth, says when people are bored they actually have high levels of brain activity.

In Andrade’s recent study, participants listened to a boring phone message and half were introduced to a doodling task. The doodlers dominated non-doodlers in retaining information, recalling 29 percent more information. She writes, “When you’re bored, you think nothing much is going on, but actually your brain is looking for something to do.” She says the brain is designed to constantly process information and when it encounters a lack of stimulation it’s a problem.

Bored? Doodling to the Rescue
Doodling helps in a state of boredom by minimizing the need to resort to daydreams when stimulation is low. Andrade believes her study’s results suggest “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.”

The act of doodling seems to aid in concentration by providing just the right amount of stimulation to keep the brain busy and avoid retreating to fantasy world mode. You always knew penning those sweet French poodles and shading those balloons during boring calls and board meetings were helpful!

Doodling Students
The ramifications for classroom doodling are intriguing. If doodling is a simple way for the brain to remain on task and a tool, which prevents “drifting,” it could possibly become an effective memory aid for learning. Perhaps, inviting students to doodle during complex lectures will become commonplace in the future. It certainly seems worth a try in certain contexts given the prevalence of attention issues at school.

Doodling requires little mental energy and may be a smart choice for kids needing an extra tool in their concentration arsenal. Who knows? Maybe the next Picasso or Matisse will be discovered during a dry science lecture on sound waves!

Michele Ranard is a freelance writer.

Published: December 2010

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