Art And Culture

Adult Coloring Books Help Lessen Stress

Adult Coloring Books Help Lessen StressAdult Coloring Books Help Lessen Stress

Adult coloring books have, over the past two years, become one of the biggest sales phenomena to hit the modern publishing industry. Approximately 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the US in 2015, boosting the sale of adult nonfiction by 6.6%.

Many attribute the trend to the purported therapeutic benefits of coloring which, it turns out, are not just for children. The promotional note on many of the books claims that the activity can reduce stress and promote mindfulness.

But do the books really provide these far-reaching benefits? To find out, researchers at New Zealand’s University of Otago put the claims to the test, reported.

For a recent study published in the Creativity Research Journal published by Routledge, psychologists gave 115 young women either a coloring book or a book of puzzles. Each day, for a period of a week, the participants colored in pictures of animals, mandalas and nature scenes, or completed non-artistic puzzles like sudoku and word searches. They also rated their stress, depression and anxiety levels before and after completing the activities.

The study ultimately confirms what some others have found in the past: that the coloring exercises did reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The puzzle exercises, on the other hand, did not have the same effect. Both categories, however, seemed to improve participants’ “mindfulness” by small margins.

“Coloring could be considered an everyday act, of little creativity in much the same way as gardening or gourmet cooking,” the paper says.

Other researchers, however, caution against the use of coloring books as a substitute for more traditional art therapy. “What many of these studies are lacking is the presence of a trained art therapist during the art-making portions of the experiments and the verbal processing of the art product created - both are crucial components of art therapy practice,” write the authors of a recent study in the Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal.

The researchers compared the after-effects experienced by adults who used coloring books with those who worked in a studio with art supplies and a trained art therapist who provided discussion and guidance, but no explicit direction. The results showed that both activities reduced negative feelings of stress and anxiety, but only the studio practice improved subjects’ already positive moods, offering heightened feelings of self-efficacy and creative agency.

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