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Can Doodling Improve Cognitive Performance?


Doodling can help focus and creativity.

Doodling enhances learning in the workplace and in school. (credit-Dan Paluska,Flikr,CC lic.)

 Believe it or not, you can be doodling
while learning stuff!

I’ve gone to the other side. I’m now convinced that doodling and drawing during class and work meetings has advantages. I’ve come to understand why my daughter’s school work is often covered in doodles. She is  listening and learning, and doodling helps her focus! She’s a visual thinker — aka doodler. Up until now, I’d get on her about doing messy work. Though I still think her ‘hand-in’ work should be neat and uncluttered, her note-taking should work best for her.

Does the following sound familiar? 
“Are we bothering you?”
“Would you like to share that with the class?”

Help learning by doodling during class.

Ry’s doodling in class helps her concentration.

The Western educational system puts a heavy emphasis on linear logic and verbal reasoning. This presents a difficulty for visual learners. Doodling allows them to think in a way that feels comfortable, instead of distracting them into having to convert the given information.

If you’re bored in a lecture or a meeting, your brain actually becomes quite active, seeking stimulation. This leads to distraction. The movement of the hand keeps the mind from wandering, and the student or employee engaged.

Still not convinced?

Sunni Brown is an author and founder and Chief Infodoodler of Sunni Brown Ink, a visual thinking consultancy. She teaches adults how to use doodling in the workplace. While coaching companies like Dell, Apple, Zappos, and Disney, she promotes doodling as a means of encouraging greater creativity and productivity. Brown says, “I encounter a lot of resistance because it’s considered to be anti-intellectual and counter to serious learning.”

She adds, “Our highly visual brains see words as images. Doodling, which unites different neural pathways in the brain, opens us up to greater insights, better information retention and higher levels of concentration, getting us closer to those coveted ‘a-ha’ moments. Rather than being a sign of disengagement or distraction, doodling keeps our mind occupied and focused.”

While Brown herself has minimal training in art or drawing, and thinks like a non-artist,  she advocates for “visual and game literacy as breakthrough tools for innovation, creativity, self-awareness and cognitive performance.”

                        Teachers scold for doodling in class. Bosses scold for doodling in a meeting.

In her TedTALK Brown tells us, “There is a powerful social norm against doodling in settings where we are supposed to learn something.”

Old definitions of a doodle:
-a simpleton or fool
-to swindle or ridicule
-a corrupt politician
-to dawdle or monkey around

Author Sunni Brown’s new definition of a doodle:
“…to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think.”

Every president from Washington to Nixon doodled, according to the 2006 book Presidential Doodles. As US Secretary of State in 2012, Hillary Clinton doodled during the UN General Assembly. Ronald Reagan doodled at the G7 conference in Ottawa, Canada in 1981.

You could be in worse company!

Giulia Forsythe says, “Doodling is a form of external thought that allows you to visualize the connections you are making while thinking. In the conscious mind, doodling can assist concentration and focus but even in the unconscious mind, while doodling and day dreaming connections are made.”

People, there are actual studies on this! Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth in England, found that doodling can be just enough to stop the mind from wandering too much.

You don’t really need to learn to doodle–you just do it!

But, just in case you need a jump-start, take a look at Doodle Lab to explore ideas and techniques to get you pushing that pencil.

Doodling Advantages

For a more techie version of doodling, check out Rachel Smith’s step-by-step  ‘Visual Recording on the iPad’.  She shows you how to make incredible Quicktime movies of your notes!

Doodling isn’t a cure-all. But, for visual learners, it’s a way of processing information and getting creative. So, start doodling, even if you’re not good at it.

Look here for more doodling ideas!

One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.  — Daniel Goleman

Tell Us-

What do you like to doodle? ‘Fess up–do you doodle during meetings? Class? Do you still retain what’s going on around you? Let me know–I’m only 99% convinced.

Barbara Balkin, Founder and ARTkinIST 

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