Watercolor Distalfink by Frances OsborneDoodling Can Improve Memory Skills

By Kirsten Whittaker | Submitted On April 15, 2009

Some might dismiss it as a waste of time or an annoying distraction, but there's an intriguing study out of the School of Psychology at England's University of Plymouth that finds doodling might help you remember snippets of information that are mentioned while you're sketching away.

Doodling may actually improve memory skills and your ability to pay attention and retain details.

Here's how the study was done.

Researcher Jackie Andrade, Ph.D. of the University of Plymouth's School of Psychology asked 40 adults who'd just finished another psychology test to listen to a dull audio tape.

The tape had the names of people who would definitely, or probably, be coming to a party, and was two and a half minutes long.

As they listened to the tape, 20 randomly selected subjects were encouraged to doodle on a bit of paper.

The sheet had outlines of squares and circles that they could shade in - perfect for doodling. This type of doodling was selected, as it was least likely to make the participants feel self-conscious.

The other 20 subjects didn't doodle while listening to the tape for the names, though places were mentioned too.

After the tape was over the subjects took a surprise quiz where they had to remember the partygoers' names (8 who could come, 3 who could not) and the places (8 different places) that were talked about on the tape, even though they hadn't been asked to listen for place names.

The doodlers remembered an average 7.5 names and places, 29% more than average - higher than the 5.8 the control group were able to recall.

Andrade's earlier work had shown the benefits of secondary tasks, like doodling, on concentration.doodling by Frances Osborne Austin TX

It seems our minds only have so much attention to give, and once occupied, will stop processing other stimulation.

Magicians use this technique (with both verbal and physical moves) to distract us from the slight of hand part of the show. This is also the argument behind removing cell phones, even hands free models, from vehicles, so drivers focus on the road and only the road.

Apparently it takes a good deal of our cognitive load to daydream and this takes your focus from the primary task.

Doodling on the other hand demands fewer mental resources and is perhaps better able to keep you focused on the main task. So perhaps we truly can do two things at once.

Andrade concludes, "This study suggests that in everyday life 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,"

So next time you're on the phone or in an endless meeting know that it's natural for your mind to want to wander, but if you must focus grab a pen and bit of paper and sketch away.

In fact, this might be the best thing you can do to improve memory skills and capture the key information you need from the event. The unique British study appears online in the February 27, 2009 "Early View" of Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Next just head on over to the Daily Health Bulletin for more information on how to improve memory skills, plus get 5 free fantastic health reports.

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