Who Doodles? Why Doodle?

Do you doodle? I do.

It doesn’t matter if I am on hold with my bank, or if I am in a staff meeting, or even trying to sort out a problem that needs a solution; in all instances, I find myself picking up a pen or pencil and doodle on the closest paper I can find.

According to his qualitative research, Jeremy Yocum (2017), found that most people doodle. He found in his survey, that most people stated they doodled for distraction or to occupy thoughts when bored (p. 26). But what I find interesting: did the people answering this question reflect on the fact that they doodled while feeling bored, but in reality, the act of doodling was an unconscious act to engage the brain?

The reason for this question is that Yocum found the second greatest reason for doodling was to help focus (p. 17). I would posit that whether or not the first group thought they were doodling because they were bored, is irrelevant to what the doodling accomplishes in the second place: to help focus.

As a teacher, I know that students learn best when they connect new learning to old or familiar concepts they have already experienced. It is in this, I believe learning is progressive. It is difficult to recall knowledge that is unfamiliar and exists as an isolated piece of information. However, when I begin to connect the knowledge to other bits of memory in my brain, it becomes easier to recall that information later.

So how does this apply to doodling? Yocum found that most often when people doodle, they doodle patterns. What is a pattern but a recurring image and we know creating a pattern ignites a part of the brain that deals with complex problem-solving. When we look for solutions, our brains automatically look for similar situations and or events to help in this process.

Therefore, when teachers encourage students to doodle during a lesson, or while reading, they are actively creating pathways to prior knowledge, that they will be able to access later, growing their ability to learn and think and make connections.


Yocum, Jeremy A., "Who Doodles and Why?" (2017). Action Research Projects. 10. http://digscholarship.unco.edu/arp/10

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