Saturday, November 13, 2010

Playing Video Game Tetris Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Flashbacks

The game of Tetris has been shown to have some medicinal value.  Tetris is good for easing the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.  This challenging mind-bending block-maneuvering game actually reduces the number of flashbacks of those people who have post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Here is a graph which shows that people who played Tetris after seeing a traumatic film had fewer flashbacks a week later.

From the Guardian: The research, which was conducted at the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, suggests using Tetris as a "cognitive vaccine" against flashbacks from traumatic events. It's published on the open-source science research Public Library of Science (PLoS) website.

Here's how they set out their recommendations:

The rationale for a 'cognitive vaccine' approach is as follows: Trauma flashbacks are sensory-perceptual, visuospatial mental images. Visuospatial cognitive tasks selectively compete for resources required to generate mental images. Thus, a visuospatial computer game (e.g. "Tetris") will interfere with flashbacks. Visuospatial tasks post-trauma, performed within the time window for memory consolidation, will reduce subsequent flashbacks. We predicted that playing "Tetris" half an hour after viewing trauma would reduce flashback frequency over 1-week.

In other words, if you're looking at falling squares, lines, hoooks and whatever those twiddly ones that are two overlapping lines of two are called, then you don't have time to visualise your previous bad experiences.

I'm glad I wasn't asked to take part:

Forty participants watched a 12-min film of traumatic scenes of injury and death (n = 20 per group). Film viewing was followed by a 30-min interval before simple random assignment to one of two experimental conditions. There were no baseline differences between the two groups in terms of age, depressive symptoms or trait anxiety or gender. Mood was equivalent between the groups prior to watching the film, and as predicted, both groups experienced comparable mood deterioration following the film (emphasis added).

(Tell me about it. Someone at work was looking for gruesome scenes from ER involving helicopters and instead found a real-life one. I'm recommending Tetris to him.)

Afterwards, one group just sat quietly, and another played Tetris, for ten minutes. They then kept a diary about flashbacks they'd had; this showed that the group which had played Tetris had significantly fewer (with a probability that it was chance less than 1%).

It's a remarkable finding; though looking at the long list of references, the idea of visual "distraction" as a method of desensitising people from visual memories has been around since at least early this decade.

But who'd have thought we'd find a potentially workable cure in a game that for a while 20 years ago seemed like a Russian plot to turn all our population into obsessive cursor-button pokers? (Wait, did it work?)

So maybe that's going to be the new treatment for returning soldiers from the front: Nintendo Gameboys loaded with Tetris.

This is a really great medical breakthrough!!!  I hope that this type of therapy expands and helps as many people as possible who are dealing with trautic-stress disorder today.  Hooray for medical innovation!!!


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wonder if puzzles or cubes do the same thing?

Lorne said...

This is an interesting finding but the question is how many children still play Tetris? In today’s world of sophisticated computer games children rarely choose to spend their free time with this game. But the next time I watch a traumatic movie I will definitely play Tetris to control my flashbacks.

Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...

@ Lorne:

I do not believe too many children (at least in the Western civilization) are prone to PTSD so this is not about them.

Quite Rightly said...

Good tip!

I need a few therapeutic visuospacial cognitive tasks following the past election!

Anonymous said...

Great post!