"There are several implications of this study's findings. They indicate an inherent potential for evoking positive emotions through art-making — and doodling especially," said Girija Kaimal from Drexel University in the US.
Researchers measured blood flow of about 26 participants in the areas of the brain related to rewards while they completed three different art activities.
For three minutes each, the participants coloured in a mandala, doodled within or around a circle marked on a paper, and had a free-drawing session.
They found that during all three activities, there was a measured increase in blood flow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, compared to rest periods where blood flow 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.
Seeing increased blood flow in these areas likely means a person is experiencing feelings related to being rewarded, researchers said.
They found that doodling in or around the circle had the highest average measured blood flow increase in the reward pathway compared to free-drawing (the next highest) and colouring.
"Doodling is something we all have experience with and might re-imagine as a democratising, skill independent, judgement-free pleasurable activity," Kaimal said.