HR Strange But True!
June 09, 2009

Before managers at your organization reprimand an employee for doodling during meetings, make sure they read the research published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

The study found that individuals who are given a doodling task while listening to a dull phone message recalled more information compared to their non-doodling counterparts.

For the study, the researchers asked 40 members of the research panel of the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge (United Kingdom) to listen to a 2.5-minute tape giving several names of people and places. Before the tape was played, the researchers asked all of the participants to listen to the tape and write down the names of people that will be attending a party.

The researchers asked 20 of the participants to shade in shapes on a piece of paper at the same time as they were listening to the tape.

After the tape had finished playing, all participants in the study were asked to recall the eight names of the party-goers that they were asked to write down, as well as eight additional place names which were included as incidental information. The doodlers recalled on average 7.5 names of people and places compared to only 5.8 by the non-doodlers.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," said study researcher Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth . "Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task."

Andrade says that the research suggests that doodling can help us in life instead of being a distraction that reduces performance.

"In psychology, tests of memory or attention will often use a second task to selectively block a particular mental process,” says Andrade. “If that process is important for the main cognitive task, then performance will be impaired. My research shows that beneficial effects of secondary tasks, such as doodling, on concentration may offset the effects of selective blockade. This study suggests that in everyday life doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing."

Source: Applied Cognitive Psychology

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