Why doodling is good for your brain

Contrary to what teachers might have told you, doodling has its benefits

Whether it be spiral designs on your lecture notes, little faces drawn in the margins of your textbooks or silly sketches on the newspaper, doodling comes in many different forms.

To doodle is to draw or scribble idly for entertainment. It can also be a form of expressing oneself when in deep thought. Doodles aren’t necessarily detailed or elaborate, even though they can be. The main difference between doodling and mostly any other visual form of expression is that doodling is done aimlessly and doesn’t have too much thought or effort put into it. 

The conventional definition says that doodles are seemingly mindless drawings done subconsciously while our thoughts drift elsewhere. But that’s not always the case and, in fact, there are many benefits to drawing while your mind wanders. 

So the next time someone tells you to put down the pencil and listen to the lecture, let them know these five interesting facts about doodling.

Improves concentration and mindfulness

In her TED talk and book The Doodle Revolution, visual thinking expert Sunni Brown explains that doodling is a form of creative thinking that helps us stay in the present. She says that the human brain isn’t “designed to pay attention and switch between items simultaneously, but that it can only give them attention one at a time.” 

When people switch constantly between several tasks at once, we reduce our effectiveness at each task. Doodling isn’t necessarily a form of distraction—it can help support your ideas and keep your attention focused while not draining your energy. 

Improves memory and comprehension

In an experiment on the connection between doodling and memory, participants were given the task of listening to a boring, simulated conversation that described individuals going to a birthday party. The participants were divided into the doodle group and the control group. Those in the doodle group were given a sheet of paper with shapes that they were encouraged to shade and draw on. Those in the control group weren’t given the sheet of paper. Participants were then given a surprise memory test on the names of the places and individuals described in the conversation.

The results of the study found that doodling aided in concentration. The participants in the doodle group could recall 29 per cent more information than the control group. The researchers concluded the experiment saying that unlike most multitasking situations, doodling while working can be beneficial.

Enhances creativity and problem-solving

Psychologists have suggested that the brain has two modes: one is the default conscious mind and the other is the state in which you get lost in thought—known as the wandering state. Doodling has been known to help release the mind’s hidden symbolic abilities of its wandering state. It seems to happen unconsciously, and is a totally natural part of the creative process. 

While it can also be done for leisure reasons, doodling allows the mind to expand its thinking and look for solutions more creatively. When a person is stuck on a problem or is looking for a creative idea, doodling will subconsciously allow their mind to be more open to creative solutions.

Acts as a stress-buster

Doodling is often thought of as a form of fidgeting. Similar to how we reduce the symptoms linked to anxiety and stress when we’re overwhelmed, repeating a pattern or shape while doodling helps slow down our brain. Research shows that doodling can help calm the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the flight-or-fight response, which is connected to stress and anxiety. 

Colouring books and doodling are also both forms of art therapy. Researchers have concluded that active creative interventions—whether through art, music, drama or dance—reduce anxiety levels and improve participants’ moods.

Regulates mood and emotions

Doodling can make you happier. In a paper from The Arts in Psychotherapy, the research team measured participants’ blood flow to the medial prefrontal cortex, the brain’s “reward centre,” while completing three tasks. 

These tasks were to colour in a mandala, doodle and draw freely on a blank sheet of paper. The researchers found that there was an increase in blood flow to the reward centre while the participants were doing artsy activities. 

Fortunately, you don’t need to be the next Picasso when making doodles. All you need is a pen and paper, and your imagination will do the rest!

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Khaleda is a former reporter for Youth Mind. If she's not daydreaming of owning a bookstore cafe, she's most likely pining over pretty classic book covers.

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