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CONFIRMED: Doodling during meetings is OKAY!

March 12, 2009 Lessons No Comments

On my way into the office, NPR’s Morning Edition confirmed that it’s okay to doodle!

Here is an excerpt:

[Bill] Gates is a doodler, and he’s not alone. Lyndon Johnson doodled. Ralph Waldo Emerson doodled. Ronald Reagan drew pictures of cowboys, horses and hearts crossed with arrows. Most of us doodle at one point or another. But why?

To understand where the compulsion to doodle comes from, the first thing you need to do is look more closely at what happens to the brain when it becomes bored. According to Jackie Andrade, a professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth, though many people assume that the brain is inactive when they’re bored, the reverse is actually true.

“If you look at people’s brain function when they’re bored, we find that they are using a lot of energy — their brains are very active,” Andrade says.

The reason, she explains, is that the brain is designed to constantly process information. But when the brain finds an environment barren of stimulating information, it’s a problem.

“You wouldn’t want the brain to just switch off, because a bear might walk up behind you and attack you; you need to be on the lookout for something happening,” Andrade says.

So when the brain lacks sufficient stimulation, it essentially goes on the prowl and scavenges for something to think about. Typically what happens in this situation is that the brain ends up manufacturing its own material.

In other words, the brain turns to daydreams, fantasies of Oscar acceptance speeches and million-dollar lottery wins. But those daydreams take up an enormous amount of energy.

This brings us back to doodling. The function of doodling, according to Andrade, who recently published a study on doodling in Applied Cognitive Psychology, is to provide just enough cognitive stimulation during an otherwise boring task to prevent the mind from taking the more radical step of totally opting out of the situation and running off into a fantasy world.

Andrade tested her theory by playing a lengthy and boring tape of a telephone message to a collection of people, only half of whom had been given a doodling task. After the tape ended she quizzed them on what they had retained and found that the doodlers remembered much more than the nondoodlers.

“They remembered about 29 percent more information from the tape than the people who were just listening to the tape,” Andrade says.

In other words, doodling doesn’t detract from concentration; it can help by diminishing the need to resort to daydreams.

It’s a very good strategy for the next time you find yourself stuck on a slow-moving panel with an aging rock star and verbose former president.

Link: Bored? Try Doodling To Keep The Brain On Task, Alix Spiegel, NPR, 3/12/09.

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Here is a picture………………

President Reagan took great pride in his doodling. He liked to draw babies and horses and often used gooey terms of endearment when writing to his wife Nancy. (Nancy Reagan is probably depicted in the center bottom of this page, which she had framed and kept on her desk). Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

 

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