Stereotypical examples of doodling are found in school notebooks, often in the margins, drawn by students daydreaming or losing interest during class. Other common examples of doodling are produced during long telephone conversations if a pen and paper are available.
Popular kinds of doodles include cartoon versions of teachers or companions in a school, famous TV or comic characters, invented fictional beings, landscapes, geometric shapes and patterns, textures, banners with legends, and animations made by drawing a scene sequence in various pages of a book or notebook.
The meaning “fool, simpleton” is intended in the song title “Yankee Doodle“, originally sung by British colonial troops prior to the American Revolutionary War. This is also the origin of the early eighteenth century verb to doodle, meaning “to swindle or to make a fool of”. The modern meaning emerged in the 1930s either from this meaning or from the verb “to dawdle”, which since the seventeenth century has had the meaning of wasting time or being lazy.
In the movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Deeds mentions that “doodle” was a word made up to describe scribblings to help a person think. According to the DVD audio commentary track, the word as used in this sense was invented by screenwriter Robert Riskin.
Effects on memory
According to a study published in the scientific journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodling can aid a person’s memory by expending just enough energy to keep one from daydreaming, which demands a lot of the brain’s processing power, as well as from not paying attention. Thus, it acts as a mediator between the spectrum of thinking too much or thinking too little and helps focus on the current situation. The study was done by Professor Jackie Andrade, of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, who reported that doodlers in her experiment recalled 7.5 pieces of information (out of 16 total) on average, 29% more than the average of 5.8 recalled by the control group made of non-doodlers.
Many American Presidents (including Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) have been known to doodle during meetings. Poet and physician John Keats doodled in the margins of his medical notes; other literary doodlers have included Samuel Beckett and Sylvia Plath. Mathematician Stanislaw Ulam developed the Ulam spiral for visualization of prime numbers while doodling during a boring presentation at a mathematics conference.
Doodling is a recurring device in the comedy of Larry David. In the 8th episode of Season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm David states that he “can’t draw to save my life but yet I’m a very good doodler.” The long-running comedy series Seinfeld, created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld includes a notable episode entitled “The Doodle“, in which a crude drawing of George Costanza provides the mise en scène for subsequent friction between characters.