Can doodling improve memory and attention?

I have always been a doodler. For as long as I can remember my notebook pages have been covered in them. I honestly have no idea when or why I started doodling, it’s not like I sketch out masterpieces or anything and teachers are never happy to see you “distracted” during their lesson.¬†However, i’ve found that doodling helps me stay engaged and focused, especially on days when I am seriously fighting to stay awake. Nevertheless, doodles have a bad rap in our culture and they are viewed as meaningless and distracting scribbles. Because of this, I have tried hard not to doodle as much, especially in college, I would never want my professors¬†to feel disrespected!!

However, freshman year my digital storytelling professor showed us this TED talk by Sunni Brown. She argues that doodling shouldn’t be ousted from learning situations, in fact, she encourages it and thinks it helps us process the complex information we might be taking in. Not only did I feel like less of a delinquent after watching this, but it encouraged me to start doodling again, and I have definitely noticed a difference in the amount of information I retain from an in-class lecture.


Brown talks a little bit about a study in which people who were doodling while taking in information recalled at least 29% than those who did not. Of course I became more interested in the effects doodling might have on memory and after some further research, I found the infamous “Doodle Study.” The researchers contribute the beneficial effect of doodling to its ability to retain an individuals attention and therefore promote deep processing of information. As we have learned this semester, stimuli that are processed deeply are more likely to enter long-term memory.

5 thoughts on “Can doodling improve memory and attention?

  1. clairejmerenda

    I’m totally a doodler too!! I find that it keeps me relaxed and keeps my mind from wandering. Most of the time, this is a good thing, because it keeps you awake and in a good mood, and isn’t too hard to listen to a lecture while you sketch random nothings. Sometimes looking back at my doodles helps me remember points of a lecture, too! The problem that I run into is when my doodles become intricate or demanding (which they do sometimes…). I find that my attention is pulled in by the doodle and I can sometimes stop listening. The other issue is that my doodles often include words, and something about writing other words makes it pretty hard to process words your’e receiving auditory. I appreciated this post though, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my love of doodling!

  2. cleaman

    This is so good to know! I have also stopped doodling as much since I got to college because I didn’t want to make my professors think I was bored by their lectures or not paying attention. When I’m looking at the professor speak or up at the board, my eyes start to wander around the room after a while. When I’m doodling, I can pay attention to what the professor is saying better then if my eyes are taking in all different stimuli from the classroom. I agree with the comment above me in that, in order to still be paying attention to the class material, doodles need to be plain and simple. My go-to draw is just a bunch of flowers. I hope professors will learn that doodling can be beneficial to learning and deep processing!

  3. valvarez

    I am so gad I came cross your post! I totally agree that doodling helps paying attention. In one way I actually think it helps with implicit memory and recall. I know that a few friends and I doodle, just like you, we doodle to stay awake in class, not that the class is boring or uninteresting but someday’s are longer than others. I know that doodling helps with my recall give that remembering what I doodle helps me find the lecture notes I need for certain classes. It helps form a better retrieval pathway not just for me but most people that doodle. Overall, it actually improves your memory in more ways than one. I really like the video that you added in your post as well and like the video say we should bring doodling back.

  4. amarti22

    This is amazing, and it makes me feel so much better about doodling. I have always said that I can never pay as much attention in class as I do when I am doodling. I have ADD and have always noticed that doodling while listening in class always helps me focus better, I do not know why but I do agree with Sunni that doodling should not be frowned upon. Just like recently, I read an article about student with ADHD. The article discussed that teachers and parents should not prevent these student from performing their hyperactive moves such as fidgeting to make them concentrate, because in fact these moves are helping them study, it is about the unique way that their brain works. I also wonder, what is the correlation between people who doodle during classes and their grades.

  5. mcao

    So the real question is, when will everyone accept this view. I am all for it! I doodle, I love doodling and it wasn’t until mid-semester last year when I caught myself doodling and I did feel like I was disrespecting my professors by doodling and not looking them dead in the eyeballs during lecture. It would be interesting to see the correlation between the doodlers and non-doodlers as well (referring to above comment), although at times, especially when I’m tired I do tend to doodle and space out. Which I guess is where the negative view of doodling comes in. But I don’t see it as negative, I view it more as your brain still working on autopilot and just thinking without words. I like that snippet in the video about how our society is so locked into thinking in words that the thought of communication in an abstract, indirect form freaks them out. Which I think, for one says a lot of our society.

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