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Doodling while learning: Mindful or mindless?

Do you find yourself drawing strange pictures in the margins of your workbook or mysterious patterns on the back of an old energy bill while listening to a lesson or having a conversation?

If you are an avid doodler, reaching for a pen at any given opportunity, you are not alone! Emma Shannon from Go Sketch Club has always been a doodler. As a specialist art teacher and artist who now runs art classes for children and families online, she became interested in why we doodle.

“I often find I doodle when I am listening to something. It is an impulse that I have and sometimes I am not even always aware that I am doing it”

Are these doodles simply the mindless scribbles of a distracted mind or is there more to it? Contrary to the careful planning and thoughtful decisions required for most pieces of art, doodling actually quietens our conscious mind and places our thoughts completely in the present. In fact many people are not even aware of what they have doodled until after the phone conversation or lecture has finished. So could the act of doodling be actually helping us learn rather than distracting us?

Research by Neuroscientists suggest that the act of doodling can indeed help us to focus more as well as become more patient, express emotion and even stimulate new ideas. A study by Maclay, Guttmann and Mayer-Gross in 1938 found that when an individual doodles, the brain, in so called ‘idle mode’, can also be highly creative. Doodling could be crucial therefore for creativity itself as it allows the busy conscious side of our brain to calm down making way for creative insight.

More recently a paper in the 2011 Lancet Medical journal by GD Schott found that doodling can actually increase our ability to remember verbal information for example listening to a list of names. This is good news for the doodling student in a lecture theatre!

So far from being ‘mindless’, doodling is beginning to gain respect. The ability to let your mind lead your pen, without hesitation, to the realms of unpredictability while also simultaneously soothing those buzzing thoughts and cooking up your next big idea is something not to be sniffed at.

Do yourself a favour and get doodling!


Emma Shannon, of Go Sketch

Emma Shannon