Doodling, long frowned upon as a symptom of boredom or inattention, may be a more productive use of your time than previously contended. Recent scientific research indicates that seemingly absent-minded tracings can help the brain process and retain information and solve problems.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
Some researchers suspect doodling may help the brain remain active by engaging its "default networks"—regions that maintain a baseline of activity in the cerebral cortex when outside stimuli are absent, [a 2011] Lancet study says. People who were encouraged to doodle while listening to a list of people's names being read were able to remember 29% more of the information on a surprise quiz later, according to a 2009 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology.
A more recent study by Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor emeritus of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s architecture department, found that doodling can help generate creative ideas, according to the WSJ:
The study discussed an architecture student who became stalled in his efforts to design a new kindergarten and started a habitual doodle he found pleasurable—writing his signature over and over.
The student soon began to see between the letters of the doodle the outline of a layout for the kindergarten's three activity spaces. He drew progressively larger versions that eventually became an architectural sketch, the study says.
There are some limitations as to when doodling is actually helpful. A 2012 study found that doodling has a negative effect on primarily visual tasks, like trying to remember a certain set of images.
But otherwise, don’t hold back from your mid-meeting art sessions. Those curlicues and stick-figure cartoons (or elaborate recreations of famous artworks) may be helping your brain get down to work.
Read more about the benefits of doodling from the Wall Street Journal.