Leonardo da Vinci did it all over his famous journals. Hilary Clinton was spotted doing it during a UN Security Council meeting. Children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak did it as a “brain-sharpening exercise.” And mathematician Stanislaw Ulam famously discovered an important number pattern while doing it on a scrap of paper during a mathematics conference.
We’re talking about doodling, of course! Those random lines, shapes and squiggles that fill the margins of notebooks when we are bored or thinking about something else. Long dismissed as a time-wasting and meaningless distraction, scientific research is now suggesting that doodling is not a sign of inattention, in fact quite the opposite. And that it may have many other benefits too, including improvements to mental health, creativity and learning capacity, especially for kids.
The Four BIG Benefits of Doodling
1. Doodling increases attention span and improves memory recall
A study at the University of Plymouth1 in 2009 asked people to listen to a boring, rambling phone message. Half the participants were asked to doodle (by shading in squares and circles) during the message, the other half were not. Researchers discovered that the doodlers were able to recall 29% more information from the phone message, on a surprise memory test.
This study determined that when the brain has nothing to do or is required to stay focused on a sustained task (like listening to a phone message or concentrating in a classroom) it tends to go into a default mode, producing its own content and drifting off into daydreams. In this mode the brain is actually highly active but not able to take in external information. Doodling seems to help the brain stay focussed, by creating just enough stimulation to prevent it from ‘drifting away’ and instead keeping it attuned to the task at hand.
2. Doodling improves creativity
According to Sunni Brown, creative consultant, author and international speaker, doodling is a key component to learning. The act of spontaneously drawing enables kids to use parts of their brain which are usually inactive when processing word-heaving information, like lessons in the classroom. The scribbling activity connects different neurological pathways with otherwise unconnected pathways in the brain. This helps to analyse information in other ways, which opens up greater insights.
In simple terms, when you doodle you light up and connect different parts of your brain, leading to more lightbulb moments.
3. Doodling boosts your mood
A recent study looked at the biological effects of doodling2. It revealed that doodling boosts blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. That’s the same brain ‘reward centre’ activated by laughter, chocolate and dancing. This indicates doodlers experience the psychological benefit of pleasure which can enhance well-being. The study further showed that 75% of the participants who doodled (even those who were not terribly creative), reduced their cortisol levels, otherwise known as the stress hormone, in the brain. More research needs to be done but initial findings suggest that if you’re wanting to boost your mood, a quick doodle can do wonders.
“Doodling is not just a nervous habit. It nudges the mind to discover different angles and hidden connections.” - Robert McKee
4. Doodling reduces stress
Doodling is also a bit like using a fidget toy. Repeating a word, pattern or shape with a pencil can help kids to reduce some of the overwhelming symptoms related to anxiety and stress. The repetitive action allows them to slow down, put the brakes on overthinking, and lowers their heart rate. In addition doodling is a low-stakes activity that enables kids to explore and create without fear of judgement or failure. With no pressure to ‘paint a good picture’, doodling can help kids feel more zen. This is why we wanted doodling to be central to our latest activity set for tweens. Mindful Doodling - Peaceful Patterns provides easy visual step-by-step instructions to show kids how to get started with creating doodles and ‘peaceful patterns’ and then demonstrates ways to apply the patterns to a selection of colour pages and templates. Based on creating simple lines, dots, swirls and squiggles — the Mindful Doodling activities are all about the process not the outcome. There is no right or wrong way, so children are able to draw freely and respond to the shapes and patterns that emerge and simply enjoy the creative process. As Sunni Brown says in her book, The Doodle Revolution, “There’s a legitimate reason why doodles show up in the notebooks of our most celebrated thinkers, scientists, writers, and innovators. And, surprise, it has nothing to do with doing nothing. There’s too much evidence that suggests that what’s really happening is that a doodler is engaging in deep and necessary information processing. To doodle is to ignite your whole mind.”