Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good

iStock
iStock

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.

Some people did enjoy the process more than others. The self-described artists actually reported finding the coloring portion of the experiment kind of stressful.

"I think artists might have felt very constrained by the pre-drawn shapes and the limited choice of media," lead author Girija Kaimal said in a statement. "They might also have felt some frustration that they could not complete the image in the short time."

In general, though, Kaimal and her colleagues found that people enjoyed these basic low-pressure, creative tasks.

“Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgments of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not," she said. "We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain. And this biological proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves."

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

3D Map Shows the Milky Way Galaxy in Unprecedented Detail

ESA
ESA

It's our galactic home, but the Milky Way contains many mysteries scientists are working to unravel. Now, as The Guardian reports, astronomers at the European Space Agency have built a 3D map that provides the most detailed look at our galaxy yet.

The data displayed in the graphic below has been seven years in the making. In 2013, the ESA launched its Gaia observatory from Kourou in French Guiana. Since then, two high-powered telescopes aboard the spacecraft have been sweeping the skies, recording the locations, movements, and changes in brightness of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

Using Gaia's findings, astronomers put together a 3D map that allows scientists to study the galaxy in greater depth than ever before. The data has made it possible to measure the acceleration of the solar system. By comparing the solar system's movement to that of more remote celestial objects, researchers have determined that the solar system is slowly falling toward the center of the galaxy at an acceleration of 7 millimeters per second per year, The Guardian reports. Additionally, the map reveals how matter is distributed throughout the Milky Way. With this information, scientists should be able to get an estimate of the galaxy's mass.

Gaia's observations may also hold clues to the Milky Way's past and future. The data holds remnants of the 10-billion-year-old disc that made up the edge of the star system. By comparing it to the shape of the Milky Way today, astronomers have determined that the disc will continue to expand as new stars are created.

The Gaia observatory was launched with the mission of gathering an updated star census. The previous census was conducted in 1957, and Gaia's new data reaches four times farther and accounts for 100 times more stars.

[h/t The Guardian]