The Near-Sighted Monkey

21 students made 63 pictures between a Wednesday and a Monday.

First round of homework from the Unthinkable Mind class, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Assignment: Use plain old crayons and color three images with the intent of getting as much of the crayon on the page as possible. Color for one hour in silence, one hour listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain and then coloring while doing something else like watching a movie or talking to friends or listening to music or eavesdropping in a cafe or re- listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain. Can something as simple as coloring a picture increase our ability to sustain an open sort of concentration and remember more of what we’ve heard?

Answer:  Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)
and  also this: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

The pictures above were drawn by two students in Lynda Barry’s “What It Is” class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while doing something else. The first image was drawn by a student listening to ‘Yid Vicious” a Klezmer band that walked into the classroom playing their instruments one day. The other may have been drawn while listening to other students read their stories. Students were encouraged to draw or doodle during class.

Why? Doodling can help us pay attention and remember more.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," said study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D., of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth. "Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task."

"In psychology, tests of memory or attention will often use a second task to selectively block a particular mental process. If that process is important for the main cognitive task then performance will be impaired. My research shows that beneficial effects of secondary tasks, such as doodling, on concentration may offset the effects of selective blockade," added Andrade. "This study suggests that in everyday life doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing."

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