Spending some time with coloring books after a tough day at work can help you feel better, although it may not leave as lasting impact on your mood as actual art therapy can, new research suggests.
"The main takeaway is that coloring has some limited benefits like reducing stress and negative mental states," said one of the researchers Girija Kaimal, Assistant Professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, US.
"But it does not shift anything else of substance, develop relationships, nor result in any personal development," Kaimal added.
The study, published in the Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, showed that coloring alone does have some positive effect, even though it not be as potent as art therapy.
The researchers ran two, separate 40-minute exercises, one consisting of pure coloring and the other involving direct input from an art therapist, to see if one of the other led to significant differences in mood and stress levels.
Every participant - ranging in age from 19 to 67 - took part in each exercise.
In the pure coloring exercise, the participants colored in a pattern or design. Although an art therapist was in the room, they did not interact with the person coloring.
In the other exercise, participants were put in an "open studio" situation, where an art therapist was present and able to facilitate the session, as well as provide guidance and support to process the experience and artwork.
The participants were able to make any type of art they wished, whether it involved coloring, sketching, doodling, or working with modeling clay.
As the participants worked on their piece, the art therapists created art as well, and were available to assist the participants if they asked for it.
Each person took standardized surveys before and after their sessions that ranked their stress levels and feelings.
Perceived stress levels went down by at roughly the same levels for both exercises - 10 per cent for coloring; 14 per cent for open studio.
Negative mental states also showed similar decreases in levels - roughly a seven per cent decrease for coloring; six per cent for open studio, the study said.
But the art therapists' open studio sessions resulted in "more empowerment, creativity and improved mood, which are significant for individuals striving to improve their quality of life and make lasting change", Kaimal said.
Often, the now-ubiquitous adult coloring books advertise themselves as "art therapy." But actual art therapists contend that such a claim is misleading, that true art therapy is about growth and relationships and not simply about "feeling better."