Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making Art Activates Brain's Reward Pathway #Science

These are examples of the doodling activity.
Credit: Courtesy of Drexel University

Some helpful images of doodles in case you never saw one.

Your brain's reward pathways become active during art-making activities like doodling, according to a new Drexel University study.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, led a team that used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the areas of the brain related to rewards while study participants completed a variety of art-making projects.

"This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results. 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," said Kaimal of the study that was published The Arts in Psychotherapy. "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."

Science Daily:  Making art activates brain's reward pathway

The Rockhouse questions this since writing a poem for me is a good feeling while I do it as it goes well or badly but moves toward the Ideal in which it feels balanced.  Even when it busts, it's a good vibe giving it a go.  Introspection about whether the creation is good or bad doesn't happen with the poetry or my music until after I already did it when the story changes, "Rats, this is bloody rubbish."

The biological reinforcement seems validated by their research.

For the study, co-authored by Drexel faculty including Jennifer Nasser, PhD, and Hasan Ayaz, PhD, 26 participants wore fNIRS headbands while they completed three different art activities (each with rest periods between). For three minutes each, the participants colored in a mandala, doodled within or around a circle marked on a paper, and had a free-drawing session.

During all three activities, there was a measured increase in bloodflow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, compared to rest periods where bloodflow decreased to normal rates.

The prefrontal cortex is related to regulating our thoughts, feelings and actions. It is also related to emotional and motivational systems and part of the wiring for our brain's reward circuit. So seeing increased bloodflow in these areas likely means a person is experiencing feels related to being rewarded.

- SD

It's a bit of a leap, perhaps, but conceivably valid so we continue.

It was noted and tracked which participants in the study considered themselves artists so that their results could be compared to non-artists. In that way, Kaimal and her team hoped to understand whether past experience played a factor in triggering feelings of reward.

Doodling seemed to initiate the most brain activity in artists, but free-drawing was observed to be about the same for artists and non-artists. Interestingly, the set coloring activity actually resulted in negative brain activity in artists.

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

- SD

All of this sounds generally valid and the interested student is invited to review the conclusion in the source article.

The Rockhouse doesn't see a whole lot of organic in this one since it's notable to measure increased blood flow but we question whether that can be stretched to justify saying it's boosting any pleasure / reward center.  We like the idea in general of understanding why art but we have some reservations regarding whatever they may do with it.  There was an article somewhat similar to this yesterday.  (Ithaka:  Why Does the Songbird Sing? #Science)

You see this and something happens.

For a kid, it's a door to a new dimension of freedom the kid never imagined before.

For a mathematician, it's an elegant representation of Fibonacci numbers or some other incredibly boring mathematical concept.

For an artist, we really don't know what he or she will do but we know that blood flow starts increasing simply on sight of it since then comes the thought, "What might I do with this?"

Answer:  anything you want

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