Doodling triggers feelings of pleasure in the brain

In Health


Doodlers rejoice – new research shows drawing and colouring triggers the brain to produce feelings of pleasure, even in the absence of skill.

Researchers monitored the brains of participants as they engaged in three different types of art, including colouring, doodling and free-drawing.

The scientists found that all three tasks cause an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a region that contains the reward centre.

Increased activity in this part of the brain during art-making suggests the activity may trigger the brain’s reward centre, according to scientists.

Doodling led to the greatest blood flow increase in the prefrontal cortex, followed by free-drawing and colouring. 

Research shows doodling and colouring triggers the brain to produce feelings of pleasure

Research shows doodling and colouring triggers the brain to produce feelings of pleasure

Research shows doodling and colouring triggers the brain to produce feelings of pleasure

DOODLING ENHANCES YOUR MEMORY 

Researchers found that simply drawing pictures of what you need to remember will help you recall twice as much information, compared to just writing the words out.

Using this technique ‘creates a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information,’ according to a study published in 2016.

The researchers explain that the process of drawing words entails at least four components to boost memory: elaboration, visual imagery, motor action and pictorial representation.

In order to transfer a word into a drawn visual representation, we first create some physical characteristics of the item (elaboration), create a visual image of the item (visual imagery), engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action).

What did the study find? 

‘This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results,’ said Girija Kaimal, assistant professor Drexel University in Philadelphia.

‘Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgements of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not.

‘We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain

‘And this biologocial proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves.’

How was the research conducted? 

The study involved 26 adults between the age of 18 and 70, eight of whom were artists. 

Each participant had their brain activity monitored as they took part in colouring, doodling or free drawing for three minutes at a time.

Their brains were analysed using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, an imaging technique used to monitor blood flow.

Scientists found all three activities led to an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex.

This occurred no matter how artistic the participants considered themselves to be.

Examples of doodling from the study. In the study, each participants had their brain activity monitored as they took part in colouring, doodling or free drawing for three minutes at a time

Examples of doodling from the study. In the study, each participants had their brain activity monitored as they took part in colouring, doodling or free drawing for three minutes at a time

Examples of doodling from the study. In the study, each participants had their brain activity monitored as they took part in colouring, doodling or free drawing for three minutes at a time

Examples of colouring from the study. Scientists found all three art-making activities led to an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, which contains the brain's reward centre

Examples of colouring from the study. Scientists found all three art-making activities led to an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, which contains the brain's reward centre

Examples of colouring from the study. Scientists found all three art-making activities led to an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, which contains the brain’s reward centre

The brain’s reward centre 

The prefrontal cortex is known to house the brain’s reward centre, as well to play a role in controlling emotions.

Increased blood flow in this brain region suggests doodling and other forms of art-making trigger the reward complex, releasing feelings of happiness. 

‘There are several implications of this study’s findings,’ Professor Kaimal said.

‘They indicate an inherent potential for evoking positive emotions through art-making – and doodling especially.

‘Doodling is something we all have experience with and might re-imagine as a democratising, skill independent, judgement-free pleasurable activity.’

The research was published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy.