Can Doodling Make You Smarter?

Mr. Telesca cruised the aisle, his voice holding steady on the Industrial Revolution. It was my first week of tenth grade and I was eager to shine like the pennies in my loafers.

When the teacher got to my desk, he slammed his hand down on my notebook and yelled, “Pay attention!”

“I am,” I sheepishly replied.

“You’re not,” Mr. Telesca growled. “You’re drawing.”

That was true. But what wasn’t true is that I was daydreaming. I heard every word Mr T said.

After class I assured him that I was indeed focused on his lecture, but that I liked to draw while listening. Not the brightest thing I’ve ever said to a teacher, but I couldn’t put into words why I doodled so much. All I knew was that I wasn’t zoning out – in fact, usually the more I doodled, the more I paid attention.

As an adult, I now know why drawing little circles and abstract scenes were so important during class time. It was a way to keep me focused on the teacher and engaged in the conversation.


The solid science behind doodling

Today, Mr. T wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Neuroscientists have since studied doodling, and there’s now proof that it’s a learning tactic for some. It helps when it comes to grasping concepts and retaining information.

According to a 2014 study by Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor of architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and a researcher of learning and design, these absentminded drawings “spark a dialog between the mind and the hand holding a pencil, and the eyes that perceive the marks on the paper.”

In one study published in the Applied Cognitive Psychology journal, researcher Jackie Andrade asked half of the people in a room to doodle while listening to a bunch of names. The result was that the doodlers remembered 29 percent more details than the non-doodlers.

While my doodling is by no means art, it’s a beautiful thing when it comes to sitting in meetings. It keeps me connected to what’s happening in the room and helps me draw conclusions about the work at hand. Perhaps the bigger point here is that we all learn in different ways and, for some, images can facilitate better discussions and drive key information home.

So, next time you’re sitting next to someone in a meeting who is dotting the page with little stars and zig zags, refrain from thinking he’s not paying attention. That doodler just might be drawing up ideas for the next meeting.



Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal,


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Lisa Finn