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Mental Health

Can Tetris Prevent PTSD?


Yep, The decades-old arcade game blocks trauma.

new study suggests the classic arcade game Tetris could help people avoid developing post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a report published in Molecular Psychiatry, the game might help the brain reset and disrupt intrusive visual memories that plague people suffering from the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event. And since intrusive memories are essential elements of the disorder, keeping them from forming could also prevent the trauma from lingering.

Researchers from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland first subjected volunteers to “an experimental analog of a traumatic event” through disturbing film footage, followed by exposure to a variety of cognitive tasks to see if they would reduce the development of intrusive memories. Scientists chose Tetris for its “high visuospatial demands,” or complex patterning, but also tried “some verbal tasks,” including backwards counting and the verbal computer game, Pub Quiz. The verbal tasks didn’t prevent intrusive thoughts. In fact, some of them even increased “intrusions,” indicating “possible harmful effects.” Tetris, however, seemed to have a positive impact.

Next, researchers recruited real life survivors of trauma from emergency rooms and had half of them play Tetris while the other half did not. Those given the game played for 20 minutes within six hours of the traumatic event and ended up with 62 percent fewer intrusive memories, compared with the control group.

Researchers believe that Tetris works by disrupting “the consolidation of sensory elements of trauma memory, preventing these vivid memories from reoccurring.” The findings are particularly hopeful because they show a mental health professional doesn’t need to be involved, and as little as 20 minutes of game playing could have a dramatic effect.

“This brief ‘therapist-free’ technological intervention was found to be feasible and acceptable,” the researchers reported in Molecular Psychiatry, “with 48 percent of patients approached agreeing to participate (compared with 10 percent in a psychotherapy trial and 8 percent in a pharmacological trial, both also in the emergency department), and with intervention completion at 97 percent.”

Gamers, including Nikolai Veselov, from the free gaming website, hailed the study for showing, “Beyond being great fun, [games] certainly test and stimulate the mind in complex ways that, if utilized, could be put to good use. The therapeutic aspect of playing these family-friendly games should never be underestimated.”

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