Colouring books for adults benefit mental health, study suggests

The adult colouring book craze has thereupeutic mental health benefits, New Zealand researchers have found, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Colouring-in books for adults first caught on two years ago with bookshops around the globe devoting shelves to the generally childhood pursuit, and titles like The Secret Garden topping Amazon’s bestseller list.

Adult fans of colouring-in described the hobby as a calming relaxation tool with nostalgic undertones that they used to express creativity and unplug from the digital and screen heavy modern world.

Now, psychology researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand have found there are definite mental health gains for adults colouring-in for as little as 10 minutes a day.

The study, published in the Creativity Research Journal, found the unusual past-time could potentially be used as an accessible and cheap self-help tool to manage some symptoms of poor mental health.

Joint author Dr Celia Lie from the University of Otago said she and her colleagues embarked on the study to see whether adult colouring in books would “live up to the hype” – and so far their research had shown they did.

But lead author Jayde Flett said further questions needed to be answered to discover how and why colouring-in was effective.

“It is often suggested that colouring-in induces a mindful or meditative state and is linked to reduced activity in the amygdala or changes in brain-wave activity,” said Flett.

“But we showed that mindful activity wasn’t the driving factor of change because people who did the puzzles also became more mindful.”

The researchers tested 115 women aged 18 to 36 years old, and found those who were assigned a week of colouring in tasks rather than other mind games such as sudoku reported lower levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms, though both groups reported feeling more mindful.

Joint author Dr Tamlin Conner said colouring-in – even within the lines – could be enough of a creative endeavour to soothe a stressed mind; in a similar way to cooking or gardening.

“Our findings bode well for the potential psychological benefits of colouring-in,” Conner said.

“In this way, colouring-in could be considered an act of everyday little-c creativity, in much the same way as gardening or gourmet cooking.

“With its low risk and accessibility, we feel comfortable adding colouring-in to the growing list of creative activities for improving mental health outcomes.”