You don't have to be an artist to reap the mood-boosting benefits.

By Dan Nosowitz
Updated: February 15, 2019

What do you do when you’re feeling down on yourself? When your confidence is low? Maybe you listen to some particular music, or meditate, or medicate. A 2016 study suggests an activity to add to your arsenal of low-self-esteem fighters: some casual art.

The study set up an art room with some basic supplies—markers, modeling clay—and an art therapist, who could help if needed. A selection of participants, who varied in age, gender, ethnicity, and art experience, took a survey designed to measure their “affect” and “self-efficacy” before and after spending 45 minutes creating whatever they wanted from those materials. Those two terms—affect and self-efficacy—are essentially psychologist ways of describing how someone feels about his or herself.

What the researchers—led by Girija Kaimal, who works in the Creative Arts Therapies department at Drexel University—found is that even this very brief period of art-making had a significantly positive effect. According to Drexel’s press release, 73 percent of those surveyed showed a significant increase in their feelings of self-efficacy—their ability to go out, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals.

Related: 16 Simple Ways to Clear Your Mind and Feel Refreshed

This 39-participant study didn't rely on a control group, and results were self-reported. Despite its small sample size, it's in line with what other similar studies have shown; this one found that art can increase feelings of hope, self-esteem, and optimism in patients with multiple sclerosis. This one found that it can be helpful in recovery from substance addiction. Previous work by Kaimal used different methods, including measuring brain activity, and yielded similar results.

Turns out those adult coloring books might have had some legitimate therapeutic use after all!

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Comments (1)

debbie4713
June 4, 2019
I’m so happy to see the scientific validation. As an artist and art instructor, I have witnessed this in myself and others for years. In fact, so many of my students have told me that I am cheaper than therapy! I am finally taking this seriously and starting an online painting community for those who are stressed out or have any difficulties in their lives that they just need an escape from. Thanks for the great article. Debbie Viola