Many of us enjoyed coloring when we were young: perhaps unsurprising as colours have a huge influence on our emotions.

We tend to consider the influence on our emotions when choosing colors for specific rooms. For example, purple sparks creativity while red can fuel energy. If you are about to decorate a room, consider what emotion you would like to elicit – you may find the color wheel below useful!

color wheel displaying color benefits

To show the impact of color, a study asked students to perform a monotonous task. Midway through, half the students had a break looking over a foliage-filled roof, while the other had only a view of concrete. The ‘green’ group performed better in the second part of the study, thus suggesting that green may promote restoration.

Yet it is not only the colors that influence us. The act of coloring itself has many benefits, including:

As adults, there is a lot more stress in our lives: demands from PIs, deadlines to meet, and experiments that just won’t work! Thankfully, coloring is no longer limited to our memories. There has been a surge in the number of coloring books available, with topics ranging from mandalas to TV shows. This means you can relive your childhood days, and once again enjoy the benefits of coloring.

If this introduction has got your creative juices flowing, we have listed some useful resources at the end of this article but first, let’s delve a bit deeper into the science behind coloring.

Why coloring increases coordination between brain hemispheres

hand holding a coloring pencil coloring a mandala
Photo by Joanna Patterson-Cross

Are you a person who reads the manual from cover to cover? Or do you throw it aside in your eagerness to use your new acquisition?

This question often appears on the left-right brain dominance test. These tests usually consider the left hemisphere to be the logical side, while the right is more creative.

In fact, both sides of your brain play a critical role in how you see and understand the world. In speech, for example, the left hemisphere has a stronger focus on vocabulary, while the right is more concentrated on emotion.

To maintain this hemispheric connectivity, activities that use both sides of the brain simultaneously are important. When you are coloring, choosing which colors to use engages your right hemisphere, while your left brain helps you follow the lines. This neural cooperation strengthens the connections between your hemispheres, which can increase both technique and inspiration.

Why coloring reduces stress and anxiety

Some people love the creative freedom a blank sheet of paper offers but for others, this can cause increased anxiety. Coloring a pre-drawn picture allows you to focus on intricate patterns without any creative pressure, and the only decision is what color to use next. Additionally, focusing your mind on filling in the small spaces results in a meditative-like state.

Mindfulness meditation has been associated with smaller amygdalae volumes and increased emotional stability. The amygdalae are almond-shaped clusters in the brain that play a key role in memory, decision-making, and emotional responses, such as fear and anxiety. Relaxing your mind via coloring reduces the amygdala’s ‘fight or flight’ response, enabling you to achieve a calm and stress-free state.

Why coloring aids focus and decision making

lady standing between two rows of corn
Photo by Burst

Our lives are full of distractions, which can sometimes make concentrating on one task difficult. Like meditation, coloring focuses your mind on one thing – in this case, the image. But this only works if you specifically put the time aside for coloring, otherwise, you may find it hard to let your distractions go.

You may be thinking that you will never have the time to dedicate to coloring. However, making coloring into a distraction itself can be beneficial. A study asked participants to imagine buying a car based on given information while in an fMRI machine. They split the participants into three groups:
• Group 1 had to choose immediately
• Group 2 were able to consider the problem for a brief time
• Group 3 worked on an unrelated task before answering

Interestingly, the distraction task aided performance when the participants decided on the car. Scans of group 3 participants showed activity in brain regions associated with decision making, even when they were engaged in the unrelated task.

How does this relate to coloring? Coloring can be considered a light distraction task, so if you are struggling to make a decision, try taking a few moments to color – it may provide the clarity you need.

Why coloring improves sleep

alarm clock on a table in a dark room
Photo by Mpho Mojapelo

We all have a pre-bedtime routine; perhaps you watch TV, read a book or play a game. But if these activities use an electronic device, they may be less relaxing than you think. Studies have suggested that blue light emitted from e-readers or other electronic devices can negatively impact your circadian rhythms.

Despite this, as is evident by power-cuts, much of our daily living is focused around electricity. In contrast, coloring is entirely e-free, which makes it a constructive pre-bed activity. By helping you unwind and emptying your mind of negative thoughts, coloring can support a better night’s sleep. And we all benefit from that!

So, there you have it. Coloring is not only an enjoyable child-hood pastime. It also increases co-ordination between brain hemispheres, reduces stress and anxiety, aids focus and decision making, and improves sleep. Why not incorporate some coloring into your schedule? Perhaps it will help you unwind before bed, or help you break that research conundrum you have spent days considering.

No matter how you want to use coloring to support your daily life, here are some useful resources to get you started:

  • Abcam’s coloring book: Take advantage of being both a scientist and an artist. Not only does it contain ten images but also some useful information!
  • ColourMePhD: a free coloring book series for students, educators, scientists, and members of the community to engage in current PhD level research in science and engineering.
  • Color-In-Comics: a series of bioscientific process, left black and white for your coloring pleasure!

Now go ahead and break out those coloring pencils!

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