Note-Taking for the Win: Doodling Does not Reduce Boredom or Improve Retention of Lecture Material

Spencer Mueller, Emily Krysten
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University of Guelph

Doodling and fidgeting—traditionally viewed in educational contexts as markers of inattention and poor classroom behaviour—have more recently been considered as possible routes to improve performance by reducing boredom and its negative impact on memory. However, there is a surprising lack of well-controlled studies examining this possibility, despite the widespread adoption of fidget toys and doodling exercises within classroom settings. Here I report two experiments (total N = 222) that assess the impact of doodling on boredom, attention, mindwandering and subsequent recall of auditory information. In Experiment 1, participants first listened to a 15-minute section of a lecture known to induce boredom. Immediately afterwards, they were asked to jot down important information from a short voicemail while either doodling (add shading to shapes) or doing nothing in between note-taking. In Experiment 2, participants listened to the same lecture for 45 minutes under one of four conditions: structured doodling (i.e., shade in shapes), unstructured doodling, note-taking, or listen-only. Thought probes assessed levels of boredom, attention, and mindwandering throughout the lecture. Across studies, doodling neither reduced boredom nor increased retention of information compared to other conditions. In contrast, test performance and attention were highest (and mindwandering lowest) for those focused on note-taking.

doodling, fidgeting, boredom, attention, retention of information