The Mental-Health Benefits of Doodling

Doodling – drawing, often when idle or bored – is less superficial than you think, according to an article in the Harvard Health Blog.

The article says that 26 of the 44 American Presidents have doodled: Theodore Roosevelt doodled animals and children; John F. Kennedy Jr. doodled dominoes; and Ronald Reagan doodled cowboys and football players. Despite the considerable brainpower of these doodlers, traditional research has classified doodling as a sign of distraction. But more recent investigation shows that it may actually benefit you.

The article cites a 2009 study in which psychologist Jackie Andrade asked subjects to monitor a 2 ½ minute voicemail that was rambling. Half of the group doodled and the other half did not. After the exercise, when the subjects got a surprise quiz on what they remembered, the ones that doodled, according to the article, recalled 29 percent more information.

Although, the article says, there’s no definitive reason behind this result, investigators are learning more about the phenomenon. The article explains that if you are bored, your “fight-or-flight system will do all it can to stay alert.” Doodling could be an attempt to stay alert, and as a result, your brain stays focused a bit longer.  Additionally, doodling may relieve psychological distress, and that makes it easier to pay attention, according to the article.

And experts emphasize not to brush off doodles as scribbles, random nonsensical words or a partial drawing. In fact, one expert, Dr. Robert Burns, the former director of the Institute for Human Development at the University of Seattle, diagnoses the emotional problems of his patients via doodles, the Harvard article says. He believes that doodles can reveal what’s going on unconsciously.

Finally, a report on how medical students learn indicated that they may find doodling helpful, as long as they limit its duration. One 30-minute doodle helps the students remember information and provides a break from all the information they need to absorb.

So if you’re trying unsuccessfully to concentrate, or finding yourself stuck, let yourself doodle. It may be just the thing you need to continue focusing on a problem without fatigue.

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