Watercolor Distalfink by Frances Osborne Stay Alert: Doodling Helps You Pay Attention and Remember

By Michael Cerreto | Submitted On May 04, 2011

We have all experienced boring moments when we cannot pay attention. You may have struggled paying attention during a dull lecture, business meeting in a small conference room right after lunch, or a long conversation on the telephone. Your inability to pay close attention makes it hard for you to remember what was discussed or presented. Your memory is faulty during these situations because you need to pay thorough attention to details in order to code and retrieve them from memory. If you can't pay attention, you can't remember very well.

When you are in these situations, you may try different ways to stay alert. You may fidget in your seat, rub your eyes, stand up, talk, or doodle. Yes, I said doodle.

You were probably taught that doodling is synonymous with not paying attention. In school you were told to "stop doodling" and pay attention. During a business meeting, other people may get the impression you are "not listening" when they see you doodling. However, a recent study found that doodling can help you pay attention and remember during boring situations.

A research study by Jackie Andrade, Ph.D. at the University of Plymouth found that people who doodled while listening to a monotonous and tedious telephone call remembered 29% more of the information than non-doodlers listening to that same call. As the study explains:

"Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a 'doodling' condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial. Future research could test whether doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming."

Through working with people who have attention deficit challenges, Mary Sue Williams, OTR/L and Sherry Shellenberger OTR/L also found that fine motor activities, such as fidgeting with a paper clip or rubber band, can help people self-regulate alertness. So, doodling may also be another fine motor activity that keeps our mental and physical arousal at an alert level to pay attention during boring situations.

If you also doodle images and words that associate with the content of the boring conversation or presentation, you will use visual images to help you remember what you hear. This technique enables you to use both visual and verbal memory together to make the coding and retrieval of information from memory more thorough and efficient.


Andrade, Ph.D., Jackie, What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Vol. 23, No. 3, Feb. 26, 2009

Shellenberger OTR/L, Sherry, Williams OTR/L, Mary Sue, How Does Your Engine Run? A Leader's Guide To The Alert Program for Self-Regulation, TherapyWorks, Inc. Albuquerque, NM, 2008

Learn how Michael Cerreto, Cognitive Retraining Specialist, and A Talented Mind, Inc. can help you or someone you know: http://www.atalentedmind.com

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