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The Doodle Abides or The Case for Doodling
My case files are filled with doodles. Characters with surprised looks wander the margins of cases I print from Westlaw. Arrows shoot across witness outlines. Forests with fuzzy and fanged lizards grow from the words of meeting agendas. These doodles might be mistaken for evidence a waning attention; evidence of an unfocused, overactive mind. But studies actually show that doodling improves memory, concentration, creativity, and even happiness.
Memory & Concentration
In 2009, the psychologist Jackie Andrade published a research paper in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology called What Does Doodling Do? The paper pretty much launched a doodle revolution. The paper’s summary explains:
Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a ‘doodling’ condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial.
The attention needed to sit through a long, dull meeting demands continuous attention, which is a strain on your brain’s cognitive functioning. Our mind is prone in these situations to completely checkout , to daydream into oblivion and retain nothing of the meeting’s content. But doodling provides just the break your brain needs to keep attentive without losing total interest.
Sunni Brown, co-author of Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers, gave a TED talk in which she slammed those who claim doodling is just meaningless paper babble. Doodling, the science says, actually activates parts of your brain responsible for finding novel solutions to difficult problems.
Much of creativity, neuroscientists believe, originates in our subconscious. When make even a simple doodle, Brown explains, “you are lighting up different networks in the brain” and “engaging different information.”
In Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People, for instance, co-authors Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, point out that people’s creative, “pre-logical glimmerings sensed amid the noise of formal thinking” often materialize “into words, dance, music, math, pictures, whatever.”
Unique ideas can bubble to the surface of your conscious mind when you doodle, which allows you to retain good ideas that might otherwise be fleeting.
A 2017 study out of Drexel University showed that, among participants and regardless of skill level, doodling triggered the brain to produce feelings of pleasure and happiness. The study, published in The Arts in Psychotherapy, was co-authored by Drexel faculty Jennifer Nasser, PhD, Hasan Ayaz, PhD, and Girija Kaimal, EdD.
For the study, 50 participants worked on three different art activities: coloring inside a mandala (one of those black and white concentric patterns), doodling, or free-hand drawing. Findings showed that those who completed the art activities showed increased blood flow to their brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s pleasure center.
"We tend to equate doodling with wasting time or being distracted, but that might not be how it actually works inside our brains," author Girija Kaimal is quoted as saying about the study. “This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results. Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgements of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not. We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain. And this biological proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves.”
Attorneys are surrounded by pen and paper. You don’t need to be a Dutch Master to doodle. Just pick up a cool pen or nice pencil and let your mind wander. A doodle might be exactly what you and your client need.
Trent Latta is a partner at McDougald Law Group, P.S. in Bellevue, Washington. He can be contacted at TLatta@McDougaldlaw.com.