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Poster A51

Art therapy and emotion regulation: A rigorous investigation of creative engagement's impact on mental health

Poster Session A - Saturday, April 13, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Lucas Bellaiche1 (, Kayla Lihardo1, Chloe Williams1, Jill Chaffee1, Paul Seli1, Kevin S. LaBar1; 1Duke University

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes creative activities, such as painting or sculpting, to aid in emotion regulation (ER). While commonly accepted in clinical settings and often considered an empirically validated technique, research on art therapy efficacy has suffered from small samples and inadequate control groups. Consequently, uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of art therapy in facilitating ER. To evaluate art therapy with a more rigorous methodology, we conducted a pre-registered, three-day, within-subjects study (N = 99) assessing the effect of abstract painting on ER. While wearing Fitbits to track heart rate (HR), participants (Ps) randomly completed each condition on separate days: in the art task, Ps were asked to paint a non-representational artwork with provided materials for 20 minutes. In the non-creative control task, Ps had 20 minutes to solve printed mazes. Before and after each condition and on the third day, we measured state anxiety, emotional distress, and mood disturbance with validated questionnaires. Relative to maze-completion, abstract painting produced a significant, though short-lived (<1 day) reduction in anxiety only. Previous artistic experience and expert-rated creativity of the paintings did not moderate this effect, suggesting that the anxiety-reducing benefits of art therapy can be achieved by artists at any skill level. Lastly, HR data revealed higher physiological engagement throughout the art task compared to the control task, as measured by average and peak-to-trough values. This study reveals that art therapy offers a short-lived but significant decrease in anxiety, highlighting its potential for facilitating ER.

Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions


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April 13–16  |  2024