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A doodle  is a type of sketch, an unfocused drawing made while a person's attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes.

Stereotypical examples of doodling are found in school notebooks, often in the margins, drawn by students daydreaming or losing interest during class. Other common examples of doodling are produced during long telephone conversations if a pen and paper are available.

Popular kinds of doodles include cartoon versions of teachers or companions in a school, famous TV or comic characters, invented fictional beings, landscapes, geometric shapes, textures, banners with legends, and animations made by drawing a scene sequence in various pages of a book or notebook.

Effects on memory  

According to a study published by Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodling helps a person’s memory significantly. The study was done by Professor Jackie Andrade, of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth. [2]

Famous doodlers  

In published compilations of their materials, numerous historical figures have left behind doodles. Erasmus drew comical faces in the margins of his manuscripts and John Keats drew flowers in his medical note-books during lectures. Ralph Waldo Emerson, as a student at Harvard, decorated his composition books with somber, classical doodles, such as ornamental scrolls. In one place, he sketched a man whose feet have been bitten off by a great fish swimming nearby and added the caption, "My feet are gone. I am a fish. Yes, I am a fish!" In many other situations he commented that they helped with compositions. Stanislaw Ulam the mathematician is another example: he discovered the Ulam spiral while doodling during an academic conference. The popular webcomic xkcd originated from the doodles of Randall Munroe, who maintains the doodle-esque feel in the comics.

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Bored? Try Doodling To Keep The Brain On Task

by Alix Spiegel with the NPR

Morning Edition, March 12, 2009 · Four years ago at Davos, the famous world economic forum, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared on a panel with Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and the rock star Bono. After the panel, a journalist wandering the stage came across some papers scattered near Blair’s seat. The papers were covered in doodles: circles and triangles, boxes and arrows.

“Your standard meeting doodles,” says David Greenberg, professor of journalism at Rutgers University.

So this journalist brought his prize to a graphologist who, after careful study, drew some pretty disturbing conclusions. According to experts quoted in the Independent and The Times, the prime minister was clearly “struggling to maintain control in a confusing world” and “is not rooted.” Worse, Blair was apparently, “not a natural leader, but more of a spiritual person, like a vicar.”

Two other major British newspapers, which had also somehow gotten access to the doodles, came to similar conclusions.

A couple days later, No. 10 Downing Street finally weighed in. It had done a full and thorough investigation and had an important announcement to make:

The doodles were not made by Blair; they were made by Bill Gates. Gates had left them in the next seat over.

Oodles Of Doodles  

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.

Ergo The Doodle  

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.
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I doodle all the time and this is a picture of what I doodle all the time....nothing else. I find that when I doodle it allows me to really concentrate on what a person is saying to me (via the phone or in a meeting).
Do you doodle and if so...what do you usually doodle? If you have a pic..show us!  

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Keilee Hutchings Y. wrote Jun 14, 2009
    • Hi, Mary!  Thank you for the informative post!  I doodle all the time, too—usually a flower, house, stars, or hearts.....



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      (華娃娃) ChinaDoll wrote Jun 14, 2009
    • Another new word for me - doodle.  Poodle, Noodle, ... oodle.estatic



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Doreen XoXo wrote Jun 14, 2009
    • I am an avid doodler.  I doodle brackets (squiggly lines) and color them in.  I also write my name alot when I doodle.  Fill in all the “o’s” or draw happy faces in them.  LOL



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mjmurphy wrote Jun 14, 2009
    • I draw leaves or interconnected boxes whenever I’m at a meeting, otherwise I get irritable when people become repetitive. Sorry I don’t have a pic, I got a scanner for mother’s day so I could post stuff here but you have to hook it up to the computer for it to work, lol.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      UK Girl wrote Jun 15, 2009
    • I do doodle all the time and it’s a 3D box .... apparently it means I’m always wanting control and I’m very controlling and measure performance etc; all true I guess in business.

      I remember the Blair / Gates doodle news it was so silly with all these heavyweight experts coming in giving thought - at the time we in the UK had no faith in our leader - not much change different leader same crap



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Coachmombabe wrote Jun 15, 2009
    • Hi, I’m cindy, and I doodle! estatic I like to doodle flowers, leaves, and paisleys!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Feathermaye wrote Jun 15, 2009
    • I’m a doodle-do too! Mostly I start with circles, and then end up stacking them into different shapes (pyramids, mostly) or interlocking them (Olympic symbol style) to make chains across the paper. A flower makes its way in a time or two, as well.

      I used to try and doodle actual figures (faces, animals) but my sorry results immediately hit the trash, lest anyone else see it! ;)



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Clark wrote Jun 15, 2009
    • I wonder what it says about me if only doodle this one flower....all the time.  I drew about 7 of them today alone.  Same flower...with black ink.  

      Vicki...you said your 3-D box means control.  What would any of you think my flower represents?  I have no idea..just curious.



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