By no means am I an artist. I am however, an enthusiast of the arts, passionate about creative expression- wherever inspiration may come from. As a college student, boredom is often the blandest version of inspiration, whether it be sitting in class, in front of a computer, in a meeting. We spend so much time sitting around listening to people talk that it’s nearly impossible to not let our minds wander, leading our hands to guide our pencils away from those thin blue lines, to the margins where our doodles begin to take over the page.
Depending on the context, doodling can be scene as a bad thing. Someone may see it as disrespectful or as a sign that they aren’t being heard. On the contrary, doodling can actually be helpful in maintaining concentration and retaining heard information.
A study conducted at the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth by Dr. Jackie Andrade has proven that doodling can help with concentration and memory on null tasks rather than sitting and staring at a blank wall. In her study, she organized 40 people into two separate groups, assigned as doodlers and non-doodlers. They were told to sit and listen to a phone call, without knowing they would later be tested on their ability to remember the names mentioned in the call. Her research showed that the doodlers retained 29% more information (names and places) than non-doodlers.
Andrade’s belief is that doodling helps prevent daydreaming, which is likely to occur in times of extreme boredom. “Doodling may have reduced daydreaming by selectively loading central executive resources, being self place, repetitive, and involving little controlled processing such as performance monitoring or inhibition of irrelevant information, the combination of doodling with the auditory message-monitoring task should have engaged executive resources needed to coordinate verbal and visuo-spatial short-term memory,” said Andrade in discussion. In layman’s terms, that means that when we’re given a simple, repetitive task such as doodling, our minds are able to maintain our primary focus on what’s being heard instead of what’s being thought.
With this information, I decided I would ask my peers why they thought they doodled, what they think about amidst doodling, and if they think it actually helps them concentrate or is just another form of distraction.
When asked about why she doodles, CSUN freshman Jillian Jordan says doodling allows her, “to be able to unload and let it breathe, it’s kind of like therapy in a way. It’s like you’re drawing, it’s like you’re painting, but you’re in class so you’re able to kind of destress with it.” Rather than being bored in a lecture or dozing off in meetings, Jillian finds doodling to be a way to remain active despite her brain wanting to zone out.
For Jillian, using doodling as an outlet to destress wasn’t common practice until her junior year of high school, when her coursework started becoming more difficult. “I think it’s something to help me decompress my mind while taking in all these notes, just a quick doodle as my teacher’s talking about something off topic on a tangent.” As an artistic child growing up, Jillian found that it comes naturally to cover her pages in drawings of outer space, bumblebees, flowers, weird shapes, and nonspecific cursive words- things that she thinks maintain her positive energy throughout her most lackluster moments.
Instead of it being a total distraction, Jillian has found it to be retain her attention in times of extreme boredom, and is able to go back to paying attention when necessary. Usually she won’t start doodling until 30–40 minutes into class, and she says she does it simply to keep herself entertained.
When asked the question, “When do you doodle?”, CSUN junior Lily Sheahan put it simily — “when I’m bored.”
Having a short attention span, Lily says she tends to doodle within 20–30 minutes of class starting. “I’ll draw repetitive things if I’m actually trying to listen.” Her doodles include millions of hearts, flowers, and various other patterns surrounding and on the back of her page. She finds it helpful to do something stimulating while trying to focus audibly, whether it be playing with a squishy toy, play doh, or coloring, but doodling is the easiest to get away with in a classroom.
Before just creating miscellaneous drawings, which she says she often ends up doing, Lily also tries to maintain her enjoyment of learning the material by using highlighters and fun smelly pens to try to make her notes pretty. Drawing arrows and boxes around her words helps keep her attention on what she’s writing rather than just looking back at a boring black and white page of looseleaf paper.
When she’s completely out of it, Lily draws what she imagines to be other people’s bedrooms, which I found particularly interesting. She never claims to be an artist, however her brain allows her to read into other people’s interests and she enjoys using her colorful pens and highlighters to draw her imagination.
Despite drawing things that are completely off topic, Lily finds that she’s able to tell herself, “Okay I need to stop, and get back on track,” because of how much she values her education.
Lily and Jillian are only two of the thousands of CSUN students who doodle. Numerous people reached out to me offering to share their doodles, so I thought I’d feature their classroom artwork here:
Despite our education system straying away from the arts and more towards STEM related topics, there are significant reasons why our educators should continue to encourage the arts. Students creating doodles during their class time should be seen as a positive way to retain attention, rather than a sign of disrespect, as it may become more than just meaningless drawings in the future.
Here’s a video by Mr. Doodles, who has made a career out of his doodling. It has nothing to really do with this article, I just found it fascinating.