The Negative Effect of Doodling on Visual Recall Task Performance


  • Elaine Chan University of British Columbia


Doodling, Modality, Visual Processing, Recall, Multitasking


Doodling consists of drawings that are often made to pass the time while an individual’s primary attention is elsewhere.  Therefore, it is often seen as a sign of lack of attention.  Studies have shown that doodling can actually be beneficial to recall performance on auditory tasks since it does not require many executive resources and may serve to stop mind wandering without affecting attention on the main task (Andrade, 2009).  To date, there have been no studies investigating whether recall performance is affected when the primary task requires the same modality as doodling; the present study aimed to determine whether doodling would affect performance on a visual recall task.  Participants (n=14) were randomly assigned to either the ‘doodling’ or ‘non-doodling’ condition.  Both groups observed a collection of images that they were then instructed to recall from a second list presented directly afterwards, with the ‘doodling’ group instructed to doodle while observing the first set of images.  As hypothesized, the mean number of recalled images by the doodlers was found to be significantly lower than that of the non-doodlers.  This was likely due to the fact that doodlers’ visual processing resources were divided between the two tasks.  An implication of this finding is that multitasking in activities which require the same primary modality as that of the main task can have a negative effect on the amount of information processed and retained.