Study Shows that Artmaking Engages the Reward Centers of the Brain

A research study published in the journal, Arts and Psychology, looks at three types of artmaking and their impact on the brain. The tool used was near-infrared spectroscopy. It assessed the reward perception based on visual self-expression. Researchers found that artmaking did engage the reward centers of the brain. A study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy found that coloring, doodling, and free drawing can activate reward pathways in the brain by engaging the frontal lobe, which is involved in learning and processing. Art also engages the default mode network (DMN), linked to self-awareness, compassion, and emotion. The DMN releases “feel-good hormones” like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which explains why people can feel a sense of happiness and accomplishment after engaging in artistic endeavors. Here is the abstract, taken from URL: Functional near-infrared spectroscopy assessment of reward perception based on visual self-expression: Coloring, doodling, and free drawing - ScienceDirect

"Visual self-expression helps with attention and improves health and well-being. Few studies have examined reward pathway activation during different visual art tasks. This pilot study is the first to examine brain activation via functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) during three distinct drawing tasks—coloring, doodling, and free drawing. Participants (11 men, 15 women; 8 artists, 16 non-artists) engaged in each task separated by equal intervals of rest in a block design experimental protocol. Additional data included a pre- and post survey of self-perceptions of creativity, prior experience with drawing tasks, and reflections on study participation. Overall, the three visual arts tasks resulted in significant activation of the medial prefrontal cortex compared to the rest conditions. The doodling condition resulted in maximum activation of the medial prefrontal cortex compared to coloring and free drawing; however, differences between the drawing conditions were not statistically significant. Emergent differences were seen between artists and non-artists for coloring and doodling. All three visual self-expression tasks activated the medial prefrontal cortex, indicating potential clinical applications of reward perception through art making. Participants improved in their self-perceptions of problem solving and having good ideas. Participants found the drawing tasks relaxing but wanted more time per task. Further study with varied art media and longer time on tasks are needed to determine potential interactions between participants’ backgrounds and reward activation."