Aris Karagiorgakis, Black Hills State University – Coloring Books and Art as Therapy

Stressed out?  Try a coloring book.

Aris Karagiorgakis, Associate Professor of Psychology at Black Hills State University, examines the adult coloring book fad.

Dr. Aris Karagiorgakis is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Black Hills State University who conducts research in two areas: art as therapy and the effectiveness of art intervention programs.

His current research investigates the “active ingredients” in art-making that contribute to the reported therapeutic benefits (i.e., lower stress/anxiety levels). He is also investigating the effectiveness of an arts intervention program in an in-patient facility for adolescents with psychiatric illnesses.

In the past, he has conducted research on tipping behavior in bars, the use of social media as a teaching instrument in the classroom, and on police lineups and eyewitness identification procedures.

Dr. Karagiorgakis received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology, with an area of concentration in Psychology & Law, from Claremont Graduate University in Southern California.

Coloring Books and Art as Therapy

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Art-making has long been accepted as a means for people to reduce their stress levels. Adult coloring books, for example, seem to be all the rage today, and make claims that are actually supported by science: Coloring will relieve your stress! And relax you!

But why? What is it about making art that is having this effect on people’s stress?  Only recently have studies investigated the exact “active ingredients” in art-making that contribute to these reported health benefits. Some of the questions we are trying to answer are: Does it matter if you color or draw? How much time must you spend on art to reap the benefits? 5 minutes? 20? Are the benefits only observed on acute stress, or is there a gain for chronic-stress sufferers as well? And are the reported benefits a result of creative expression, or the result of simply moving a writing instrument in your hand? My research suggests that drawing for 15 minutes is sufficient to observe lower stress levels than a control task, and that these benefits may extend towards chronic stress sufferers.

We collected blood-glucose levels from participants to find that participants who drew after being stressed out had their blood–glucose levels return to baseline, whereas the control participants did not. Although blood-glucose isn’t the most sensitive objective bio-marker for changes in stress, this finding suggests that the good feelings you get from making art may not just be in your head.

Finding evidence of a direct therapeutic benefit of art-making on one’s physiological levels of stress will have a significant effect in how we value the importance of creative expression and making art for its influence on our mental and physical health. Considering how stressed out we all are these days, there is not a more efficient, affordable, and accessible way for us to reduce our stress than making art.

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