A pilot study suggests making any kind of art activates the brain’s reward pathways, even if it is terrible. Suggesting art and doodling is beneficial to your health.
Researchers from Drexel University recruited a mix of artists and non-artists. Then hooked them to headbands that measured blood flow through the brain. These 26 subjects then completed three art activities for three minutes each. Colouring in a mandala (a round symbol used in Buddhism); doodling within or around a circle marked on a paper; and a free-drawing session.
Studies show doodling is good for you
Published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy, the study found there was increased blood flow during all three activities to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. A region linked to the brain’s reward circuitry, suggesting that getting your art on stokes positive feelings.
The findings suggest doodling increases blood flow along those reward pathways the most. And more interestingly, that artistic skill and experience doesn’t seem to impact how rewarding it is to make art.
“There might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results,” said study leader Girija Kaimal. Which is a polite way of saying “Making art feeds your soul you even if you have the artistic ability of an old sofa dumped in an alley”.
Her previous studies also indicated that you feel good after making art. Regardless of how good you are at it (so don’t stress if finger-painting pre-schoolers are crafting better masterpieces than you).
While more research needs to be done to confirm the findings, Kaimal said those who don’t make art could be overlooking “a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain”.
This study’s findings … indicate an inherent potential for evoking positive emotions through art-making — and doodling especially,” she said in a statement.
“Doodling is something we all have experience with and might re-imagine as a democratizing, skill independent, judgment-free pleasurable activity.” There are actually studies that show many different forms of art can help.
The study might not surprise those who jumped on board adult colouring-in books back when they were a hot trend — though Kaimal’s research indicated that more artistic types found colouring-in less enjoyable, perhaps because they felt constrained by the pre-drawn lines.