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Drawing to Distract: Examining the Psychological Benefits of Drawing Over Time

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Abstract

Individuals gravitate toward the arts during times of emotional stress. We examined the benefits of drawing over several sessions to determine whether drawing improves mood and, if so, whether it does so because it allows for emotional expression or distraction. After inducing a sad mood, we asked participants (n = 40) to draw over 4 consecutive days. Half of the participants were instructed to draw as a way to express their feelings (express condition) and half were instructed to draw as a way to focus and observe (distract condition). Mood was measured after the first and final testing session and a life satisfaction scale was administered at the beginning of the first testing session and after the final session. We found that drawing to distract improved mood more than drawing to express, both after a single drawing session and after 4 sessions. These findings are consistent with previous findings on drawing, but run counter to reports on the relative health benefits of expressive writing. We suggest drawing and writing may affect mood through different mechanisms.

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... In general, creative leisure activities are highly intrinsically motivated, as they provide pleasurable and challenging experiences. Yet, self-expression and coping with troublesome experiences are stronger motives to engage in writing, drawing, or creating music than for creative cooking or handicrafts (Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016). The latter creative activities were often motivated by altruistic motives of bringing pleasure to others in the form of self-devised gifts or dishes. ...
... The correlation pattern provided further evidence for the domain specificity of certain motives. As in Study 1, the expression motive was most strongly related to visual arts, literature, and music (Drake et al., 2016), whereas prosocial motives were more strongly associated with handicrafts and creative cooking compared to other creative motives. The social motive, as could be expected, was most strongly related to social creativity. ...
... While enjoyment seems to be a strong, universal motive for all creative activities, a few motives were found to be more relevant to some creative domains compared to others. For example, people striving to express themselves or to cope with distressing events more often turn to visual arts, literature, and music than to other forms of creative activity (Drake et al., 2016). In contrast, creative cooking or handicrafts are more often driven by altruistic motives and expected recognition. ...
Article
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People spend a lot of time on creative activities in their leisure time, but we still know little about what these activities are and what drives them. The literature suggests that several specific motives may be relevant for everyday creative behavior, including enjoyment, expression, challenge, coping, prosocial, social, material, recognition, and duty motives. Across two online studies totaling 750 participants, enjoyment was the strongest motive for everyday creativity, consistent with previous research linking creativity to intrinsic motivation and positive affect. Importantly, however, the relevance of motives differed across creative domains: visual arts, literature, and music were more strongly motivated by expression and coping motives, whereas handicrafts and creative cooking were more strongly motivated by prosocial and recognition motives. Intrinsic motives for creative activities were substantially related to high openness to experience, but explained incremental variance in the prediction of self‐reported creativity as well as rated creative achievements. Together, these findings provide new insights into the motivational basis and function of everyday creativity.
... Then participants make a drawing (different drawing conditions can be used) and they are finally asked to assess their emotional state one more time, so as to examine whether the drawing activity led to a significant improvement. Two types of induction procedures are consistently used in these studies: Participants are asked either to recall a personal sad event (Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016;Drake & Winner, 2012;Forkosh & Drake, 2017;Pizarro, 2004;Smolarski, Leone, & Robbins, 2015) or to watch a short movie inducing a negative mood (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008;De Petrillo & Winner, 2005;Diliberto-Macaluso & Stubblefield, 2015;Drake, Coleman, & Winner, 2011;Drake & Hodge, 2015). ...
... Moreover, drawing has been shown to improve adults' mood regardless of their drawing frequency, appreciation, perceived competence (Drake & Hodge, 2015), and even for those with no special interest or ability in art (De Petrillo & Winner, 2005). Drawing has both short-term (after one session) and long-term (after four sessions) beneficial effects on negative affects (Drake et al., 2016), regardless of the level of cognitive demand (Forkosh & Drake, 2017). Some of these studies also aimed to examine whether this beneficial effect of drawing depended on the drawing condition. ...
... This study was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of drawing as an emotion regulation technique with 7-and 10-yearold children. Our results confirm that drawing can be used with children to regulate negative emotions, consistently with previous studies on children (Drake & Winner, 2013) and on adults (Dalebroux et al., 2008;De Petrillo & Winner, 2005;Diliberto-Macaluso & Stubblefield, 2015;Drake et al., 2011;Drake et al., 2016;Drake & Hodge, 2015;Drake & Winner, 2012;Forkosh & Drake, 2017;Smolarski et al., 2015). Indeed, we found a significant improvement in children's mood ratings, whatever the drawing condition and whatever the age. ...
... Many studies that investigated how art affects mood also gave explicit instructions to participants to express positive emotions in their art (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008;Diliberto-Macaluso & Stubblefield, 2015;Drake et al., 2011;Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016;Drake & Winner, 2012). For instance, Smolarski et al. (2008) asked participants to make a brief list of personal stressors in order to induce a negative mood. ...
... There are, in fact, five facets of mindfulness: non-judging of experience, non-reactivity to inner experience, observing, describing, and acting with awareness (Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004). When examining how art affects mood, there is evidence that the effects are obtained through distraction and not necessarily mindfulness (Dalebroux et al., 2008;Diliberto-Macaluso & Stubblefield, 2015;Drake & Winner, 2012;Drake et al., 2011;Drake et al., 2016;Smolarski et al., 2015). A previous study examined how drawing affected the mood of participants when the instructions for drawing were varied. ...
... Several studies support the theory that producing art is a way to distract people from stressful thoughts or events (i.e. emotion based coping) in their lives (Dalebroux et al., 2008;Drake & Winner, 2012;Drake et al., 2016), and it is possible that coloring is a 'mindless' activity rather than a mindful one (Manztios & Giannou, 2018), and may provide support for past findings about these activities being distractions rather than special interventions (Drake & Winner, 2012), at least in the long-term. While our focus here was to determine short versus long-term effects of coloring on mood rather than answer the question of whether coloring serves as a mere distraction, this could be an important question for future research to address. ...
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Manufacturers of adult coloring books often make the claim that coloring is a technique that can decrease stress and negative emotions and enhance relaxation and mindfulness. This technique has not been explored, with high external validity, in psychological research. Participants included 66 college students (63.6% females; 86.4% Caucasian). Study 1 examined the short-term effects (20 minutes) of coloring on mood and mindfulness. In Study 2, we examined the week-long effects of coloring on mood and mindfulness after asking the same participants to color for 20 minutes daily for seven consecutive days. Significant short-term effects of coloring were present, as stress decreased and relaxation increased. However, effects of coloring on mood, psychological symptoms and mindfulness over a one-week period were not found. Our findings provide support only for short-term benefits to coloring. .
... The relative benefits of drawing to distract over drawing to express persist over four sessions of drawing. After inducing a sad mood, Drake, Hastedt, and James (2016) asked participants to draw over 4 consecutive days. Half were instructed to draw as a way to express their feelings (express condition) and half were instructed to draw as a way to focus and observe something in the world (distract condition). ...
... It was hypothesized that the distract condition would lead to greater mood improvement after a single session of drawing than the express condition because the distract condition should shift attention away from negative thoughts and feelings. Such a finding would be consistent with previous research on the benefits of drawing after a single session (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008;Drake et al., 2016;Drake & Winner, 2012). Because this study examined the benefits of engaging in an emotion regulation activity (drawing), I examined RSA reactivity and not resting RSA. ...
... It was hypothesized that the distract condition would lead to a lower heart rate and greater increases in RSA after a single session of drawing than the express condition. Previous research (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008;Drake et al., 2016;Drake & Winner, 2012) has demonstrated that drawing induces positive emotions (as indicated by increases in positive affect after drawing) and therefore should result in increases (rather than decreases) in RSA after a single session of drawing. ...
Article
This study investigated the effects of drawing over 1 month to test whether the benefits are due to expression or distraction. After a sad mood induction, participants (n = 66) were randomly assigned to use drawing to express, drawing to distract, or to a control condition in which they did not draw at all. Mood, overall life satisfaction, heart rate, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were assessed at the first testing session and 1 month later. Drawing to distract improved mood more than drawing to express after a single drawing session and after 1 month. Whereas RSA increased after a single session for both drawing conditions, drawing to distract increased RSA marginally more after 1 month than the control condition. This study suggests that the psychological benefits of drawing may be both immediate and over time but that the psychophysiological benefits occur only over time.
... Recent research has demonstrated that a single session of drawing is an effective way to regulate sadness (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008;De Petrillo & Winner, 2005;Drake & Winner, 2012, as are multiple sessions over drawing spanning several days (Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016) and one month (Drake, 2018). In these studies, participants engage in a sad mood induction (e.g., viewing tragic photographs, watching a sad film, or thinking about the saddest event that has ever happened to them) and are then randomly assigned to engage in an activity. ...
... Previous research has demonstrated that drawing to distract improves sadness after a single session of drawing (e.g., Drake & Winner, 2012) as well as after multiple sessions of drawing (e.g., Drake, 2018;Drake et al., 2016). However, less is known about the effectiveness of drawing for regulating other emotions. ...
... Finally, future research should examine the long-term benefits of drawing for children by examining whether drawing to distract or express is more beneficial. Work on drawing with adults, has shown that drawing to distract improves mood more after several days (Drake et al., 2016) and 1 month (Drake, 2019). It is unclear whether drawing on a regular basis has more of an effect on mood than just making a drawing in a single session. ...
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Previous research has shown that drawing improves short-term mood in children when used to distract from rather than express negative thoughts and feelings. The current study sought to examine (a) how drawing might elevate mood in children ages 6–12 by examining the role played by absorption, enjoyment, and perceived competence as well as entering an imaginary world; and (b) whether children spontaneously use drawing to distract from a sad mood. Across three studies, children were asked to think of a disappointing event. After a sad mood induction, they drew for 5 min. Mood was measured before and after the mood induction and after drawing. Three main findings emerged. First, drawing to distract led to greater absorption and enjoyment than did drawing to express. Second, children’s mood improved equally when drawing imaginary and real scenes showing that the key ingredient is that the content of the drawings be distracting in nature. Third, drawing improved mood even when children were given no instructions on the content of their drawings and children were more likely to use drawing as a way to distract themselves from a sad mood. These studies help to define the characteristics of drawing activities that foster mood improvement in children and highlight the important role of the arts in emotion regulation.
... Can DFO assist adolescents in negotiating these challenges to their emotional well-being? Only a few accounts describing the significance of DFO for adolescents exist, mainly in the educational field (Drake et al., 2016;Duncum, 2018). These accounts demonstrate how therapists who use DFO during their sessions consider adolescents to be a target group that stands to gain significantly from its use (e.g., Albert, 2010). ...
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Drawing from observation (DFO) is an art therapy method that entails drawing an object, along with guided reflections on process and outcome. In this qualitative study, we explored adolescents’ perspectives on their DFO experience, and how they perceive it as having influenced their emotional well-being. We interviewed 10 adolescents who participated in a DFO group, regarding their perspectives on DFO. Participants were asked to refer to their experience, as well as to provide examples of their drawings. Through a thematic analysis we integrated data from interviews and drawings.ResultsAdolescents experienced three lines of tension in DFO: Between self-acceptance and self-judgment, between merging and separation, and between similarities and differences. Processing these tensions has the potential to increase their emotional well-being. DFO could make a meaningful contribution to adolescents’ emotional well-being. The unique intersection between object, observation, and drawing in art-therapy addresses adolescents’ emotional-developmental challenges.
... In contrast, when investigators have subjects maintain a positive focus during their art making (and ignore the negative mood induction), participants have reported more effective mood repair, that is, mood is more positive (e.g., Dalebroux et al., 2008;Diliberto-Macaluso & Stubblefield, 2015;Drake & Hodge, 2015;Drake & Winner, 2012). Some investigators have attributed the positive mood to "distraction" from woes, and not from the art-making itself (Dalebroux et al., 2008;Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016;Drake & Winner, 2012). This is a reasonable conjecture given that researchers have reported attentional control tasks can be used as a distraction from negative feelings, and in the end, are associated with elevated mood (Van Dillen & Koole, 2007). ...
... Jensen & Bonde, 2018;Zarobe & Bungay, 2017). Art therapy supports the process of acceptance and change and has proved to be helpful in the treatment of psychosocial difficulties (Bone, 2019;Drake, Hastedt, & James, 2016;Eaton, Doherty, & Widrick, 2007;Slayton, D'Archer, & Kaplan, 2010). Creativity provides space for expression and healing during or after the experiences of total devastation, such a genocide and war (Kalmanowitz & Lloyd, 2005). ...
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Previous research has found that self-focused rumination maintains or increases depressed mood, whereas distraction decreases depressed mood (S. Nolen-Hoeksema & J. Morrow, 1993; S. Nolen-Hoeksema, J. Morrow, & B. L. Fredrickson, 1993). The present series of experiments examined these mood regulation strategies in the context of an angry mood. In Experiments 1 and 3, rumination increased anger, whereas distraction decreased or had no effect on anger. In Experiments 2 and 4, women were more likely to choose to ruminate when in a neutral mood but to distract themselves following induction of an angry mood. Men were equally likely to choose rumination or distraction, regardless of mood condition. The results are interpreted and discussed within the framework of an associative-network model of anger.
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Disclosing information, thoughts, and feelings about personal and meaningful topics (experimental disclosure) is purported to have various health and psychological consequences (e.g., J. W. Pennebaker, 1993). Although the results of 2 small meta-analyses (P. G. Frisina, J. C. Borod, & S. J. Lepore, 2004; J. M. Smyth, 1998) suggest that experimental disclosure has a positive and significant effect, both used a fixed effects approach, limiting generalizability. Also, a plethora of studies on experimental disclosure have been completed that were not included in the previous analyses. One hundred forty-six randomized studies of experimental disclosure were collected and included in the present meta-analysis. Results of random effects analyses indicate that experimental disclosure is effective, with a positive and significant average r-effect size of .075. In addition, a number of moderators were identified.
Article
The present research examined whether and how loading working memory can attenuate negative mood. In three experiments, participants were exposed to neutral, weakly negative, or strongly negative pictures followed by a task and a mood scale. Working memory demands were varied by manipulating task presence (Study 1), complexity (Study 2), and predictability (Study 3). Participants in all three experiments reported less negative moods in negative trials with high compared to low working memory demand. Working memory demands did not affect mood in the neutral trials. When working memory demands were high, participants no longer reported more negative moods in response to strongly negative pictures than to weakly negative pictures. These findings suggest that loading working memory prevents mood-congruent processing, and thereby promotes distraction from negative moods.
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