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Harvard Health Blog
The “thinking” benefits of doodling
- By Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor
About the Author
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor
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A similar technique was used as a diagnostic tool by child analyst Donald Winnicott at Paddington Hospital. In his writings it is referred to as the “squiggle technique”. In this application, the child is asked to draw a spontaneous squiggle (doodle) on paper and Winnicott would then add something ( semi spontaneous) to the child’s effort. This continues back & forth in an attempt to elucidate unconscious or pre-conscious images from the child.
Richard Howlin PhD
The Chelsea Center for Autism
I find I am doodling when I keep talking with someone over the phone for a lengthy period. It could be a family member, a close friend or even just an aquintance. It always happens when the conversation runs for a long time. Not when it is just a short duration call.
Once l start doodling I would continue when I am listening to the person at the other end and also when I myself am talking. It could be any thing, flowers, geometrical shapes, or a word or a phrase that struck my mind during the conversation. This never distracts me from the conversation. After the call is finished I can recall what has been talked about.
I wonder this is the same as the process discribed in Dr Pillay ‘s article.
I noticed that you said, “Doodling (a form of fidgeting) ” which really rung a bell. As a long time Community leader on an ADHD forum – fidgeting has become one of the go-to-strategies to help those with ADHD in the classroom. See this link – http://www.additudemag.com/slideshow/63/slide-1.html?utm_source=eletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=educator
I might also add (as a long time educator) that there have been many studies which have shown that during note taking, if you try and express the notes in a pictorial form, you will remember them much better. And, of course, that has a lot to do with using different modalities.
Anyway, good article, I will be sharing this with my ADHD friends.
I am often in long meetings about satellites – interesting broadly, but technically overwhelming. I tend to draw houses and dogs. Wondering if I switched to doodling the topic that was being discussed, if it might have an even greater retention impact.
For years I have ‘doodled’ with color sticks on a watercolor paper pad while listening to live jazz music and find it a wonderful brain exercise and relaxation. I am provided sustained fascination with swirls of primary and secondary colors that are distinct and also merged into new color arrangements as the ongoing music propels the muse along. Each non-figurative hour-to-hour-and-a-half long composition, (now numbering over a thousand), is spontaneous, done largely without pre-thought and conveys to me its own sense of completeness and thus satisfaction.
I always do it when I’m in a meeting and I manage to get everything discussed. Thanks
Primary process thinking and secondary process thinking are well known. I would suggest that these studies of doodling are closely related.
That’s a great reframe! Thank you!
Having grown up in Seattle Washington and lived in the area for an additional 20 years later, I’m puzzled by the attribution of Dr. Robert Burns to the University of Seattle. Tried Google, always a test, and found no such critter. So likely it is Seattle University, from which I graduated, but Dr. Burns is not showing there on Google, perhaps because of his earlier retirement. There us an Institute of Human Development at Seattle University. Perhaps time to get the right university name down.
Yes, it works, it took me 20 years, to doodle, and every time it got a little bit bigger , to finally it was a picture , that I recognized. Than I received a photo, and found the answer. It works.
Thanks for asking me to fact-check this. The university reference is from: http://www.calstatela.edu/sites/default/files/groups/Colloquy%20Front%20Page/qutub_essay.final_.pdf. Other references for this include: http://www.theregister.co.uk/Print/2006/10/13/the_odd_body_doodling/ And there are several more too. In looking into this, in earlier blogs, the reference shows up as “Seattle” (e.g. https://blogordietryin.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/how-do-you-doodle/). Then, in 1991, there is a reference to “Seattle Institute of Human Development” in The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1991/08/22/decoding-doodles/03d903fa-c80e-4fea-af50-10fbbd9b7406/?utm_term=.e99a2a547335) and a similar reference in: https://www.amazon.com/Self-Growth-Families-Kinetic-Drawings/dp/087630305X. This appears to be a private research and education foundation. He authored a book with this affiliation at: https://books.google.com/books?id=CrnHBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT3&lpg=PT3&dq=robert+burns+institute+of+human+development+Seattle&source=bl&ots=0_ar-PspC2&sig=E6gUwM0-9L8KKeMCI1ROuJXAohs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5_tOKu4LRAhVFMSYKHYGAAUMQ6AEIHjAB#v=onepage&q=robert%20burns%20institute%20of%20human%20development%20Seattle&f=false. I see that “Seattle University” and UC Berkeley both have such an Institute, but I too cannot find a reference other than those above that confirm or deny this affiliation. Given the inconsistencies in report, despite no evidence of his university affiliation if any, I would agree that this might more accurately be stated as “Seattle Institute of Human Development, a private research and education foundation” Thanks again for drawing my attention to this.
very impressive I really believe it makes our mind more intent thank you
Thanks Donna. Glad that this resonates!
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