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Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good

20 June 2017

From Mental Floss:

Quit your judging and give in. You know you want a coloring book, and now researchers know why. They published their findings in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy.

Art therapy experts at Drexel University and The College of New Jersey wondered if there was a neurological basis for the relaxation-inducing powers of coloring, doodling, and drawing.

The best way to find out, they figured, would be to watch people’s brains as they tooled around on the page.

The researchers recruited 26 people, eight of whom self-identified as “artists.” They fitted each person with a special brain-imaging headband and gave them markers and paper. The participants then had three mini art sessions lasting three minutes: one each of doodling, coloring, and drawing whatever they felt like. Between sessions, they left the headbands on and rested their hands. Afterward, the researchers asked participants how they felt about each activity and about themselves.

As human experiments go, this one was pretty sweet for its participants, many of whom said the arts-and-crafts experiment made them feel like they had more good ideas and were better at solving problems afterward. But three minutes was not long enough, some said. They wanted more time.

Their brains seemed similarly into it. All three activities produced an increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, a region that plays a central part in the brain’s reward system. During rest periods, blood flow slowed until it reached normal resting rates.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

PG understands that no one has physical sensations in their brains. However, when he switches from lawyer stuff to either photography or post-processing his photos, he can almost feel one part of his brain winding down and a different part spinning up.


5 Comments to “Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good”

  1. I’ve made the shift from writing fiction to learning Amazon ads this week, and it definitely feels differently in my brain. Writing is a hard but pure experience that involves only me.

    The ad information is being acquired from external sources – books, websites, FB posts, bought software – and is in ‘learning mode,’ completely different from writing mode.

    I was trying to do both simultaneously, and the result was a horrible mess inside my brain which could focus on neither of these opposite modes, and spent time exclusively going in circles. Circles hurt.

  2. I also feel the “changing gears” sensation when switching from logical to creative mode. I don’t think it’s unusual.

  3. "James F. Brown

    My $0.02:

    Writing — especially a first draft — and getting stuck, then deciding to go back and edit what’s been written, is a HUGE mistake. Writers think they are “being efficient” with time when they do this.

    I always advise writers NEVER to do this. Writing is a creative (right) brain activity. Editing, however, is a critical (left) brain activity.

    Fairly easy to switch from creative brain to critical brain, but very difficult to switch back from critical brain to creative brain. You will lose the creative/writing momentum and actually waste time trying to get back into the writing groove.

    Writing and editing are two very different cognative activities, and need to be separated by a time interval.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      I can switch between these two modes of thinking fairly quickly and completely and always have been able to, even from my earliest days of writing. In fact, creative mode is never far. I usually engage creative mode while editing, in fact, especially as I write my draft (only one, no major revisions). The only time I do major rewrites is when, while in progress, I realize I am digressing too much from the intended plot. I then cut back to the last spot where I felt good about my writing, and rewrite from there.

      I have never been able to go back and do heavy edits or revisions on any novel I’ve considered completed when I’ve tried using the “write as though you’ve already made the changes” method. By then, I’m so sick of the wip, I don’t want to look at it any more, even to read for fun. It’s really best for the story if I edit–and rewrite as necessary–as I go.

      And please don’t tell me I’m doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to write. To each their own.

    • That depends on what kind of brain you have. My two halves work together flawlessly, and I don’t have to “switch back and forth” at all. Both sides are always on, whether I’m writing or editing…because almost always, I’m doing both.

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