I remember my year 6 and 7 teacher telling me this, and I've heard it a bit lately: Doodling helps you pay better attention. I doodle, lots, and always have. In second semester of last year I cut out the middle man and sticky taped a blank piece of paper to my lecture pad, and by the end of the year it was covered in pictures of wombats, love hearts and horses. I was reminded of how much I doodle last night when I went to a postgraduate expo with two of my friends and they kept looking at my notepad and laughing. One of them I went to high school with and I used to amuse her to no end with random drawings (and also whispering to her, writing notes and drawing on her stuff). She said after the expo that she forgot how distracting it was to sit next to me during talks. Distracting for her, maybe. But apparently for me, doodling helps one retain information better. Here's an article that talks about a specific study about that: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/27/doodling-doodles-boring-meetings-concentration. The theory behind why doodling helps is also intersting. They think that doodling is good because it prevents you from daydreaming, which is bad.
This knowledge makes me feel happier about knitting while I'm supposed to be listening. After all, the principle is the same: It's busy work for your hands but it doesn't use up too much brain space to concentrate on. Both doodling and knitting would help you not to daydream. I'm quite addicted to knitting. Unless I have to, I probably wouldn't go more than...three hours without knitting at least a little. As my friends have got used to me knitting, I've brought knitting out at more and more inappropriate situations (at restaurants, out to pubs on a Saturday night...). And as I get more comfortable with more people, the knitting also comes out. I'm doing my Honours year in psychology this year. I'd say it took about the fifth meeting with my supervisor, his PhD students and we lowly Honours students for my knitting to come out. I must say they were very impressed with the sock I finished that meeting (so was I, it was my first sock). I even knit during class, when it's not something for marks. For you see, while I agree that knitting may help me retain information, it would have to be basic knitting like stocking stitch. Anything that involves memory for a sequence of different stitches or, God forbid, actually reading from a pattern, I believe would actually be distracting. And also, I don't think knitting or doodling necessarily helps you pay attention. You have to want to be paying attention as well. Otherwise, you'll happily give over the free part of your brain to also concentrate on your doodling or knitting.
So I make few apologies for my knitting during lectures, meetings and certain social occasions. It makes me a better listener, or at least, that can be my excuse. You're welcome to it also.
The Knitted Kitten