Via a questionnaire administered after the sessions, the study also suggested that coloring was more conducive than drawing to the mental state of flow—the concept developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which describes a state where a person finds a balance between their skill level and the challenge of the task at hand. Flow, achieved through a spectrum of activities—from yoga to writing—tends to allow people to stabilize their emotions. “When we’re in states of flow, we lose track of time, we’re totally absorbed or in the zone, almost,” Drake explains.
“Coloring doesn’t have that balance between challenge and skill,” she continues, “but there is a new concept called microflow, which is thought to be a simulation of flow, where you’re experiencing a relaxed state, and it may be that those in the coloring condition were having this experience.”
Drake posits that that both drawing and coloring were effective simply because both are engaging activities. “Both are shifting the participant’s mind away from the negative event they thought of—I think that’s why they both resulted in improved mood,” she says.
And while their hypothesis—that drawing is a more effective distraction than coloring—wasn’t supported, Drake has ideas as to why. “I think it could possibly be due to the fact that we were working with non-artists,” she says. For the majority of individuals in the study, drawing was not an activity they practiced regularly. Among the participants, there were three people who identified as art majors and 23 who said they had taken formal art classes before. “We might have found different results if we were working with artists, who are more used to drawing,” Drake notes, “and coloring might not be as engaging or demanding for them.”
Ultimately, though, the study is a vote of confidence in adult coloring books. In the end, those tomes of complex drawings, waiting to be scribbled and filled with color, aren’t just time-wasters—they can be mood-boosters, too.