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"You know you're bored when you start shading in the squares of your notebook. Apparently it's a habit that could be helping you to concentrate."
In a recent article on the BPS Research Digest blog, a study is described in which subjects were asked to listen to a dull phone message, without memorizing it, and then write down some details from the message. Half of the partcipants were asked to doodle while listening, by shading in squares and circles on their note paper.
"Afterwards, the doodlers had noted fractionally more of the correct names (7.8 on average vs. 7.1 - a statistically significant difference). What's more, moments later, the doodlers also excelled in a surprise memory test of the guests' names and the places mentioned in the message, recalling 29 per cent more details than the non-doodlers."
More research needs to be done into how and why the brain behaves this way, but it backs up anecdotal evidence that "secondary tasks aren't always a distraction from primary tasks, but can sometimes actually be beneficial." Read the full article here.
So remember, when you notice that guy in your presentation who never looks up from his Blackberry, he might be remembering what you said better than the woman next to him!
Here are two previous posts that touch on the same subject:
Is your audience paying attention?
Reading your audience
And here's a post on how toys are helpful to participants:
Toys and candy, a speaker's best friend