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Can playing Tetris reduce flashbacks and aid in the treatment of PTSD?

Focusing on a highly engaging visual-spatial task, such as playing the tile-matching puzzle video game Tetris, may help in reducing patients' frequency of flashbacks and enhance treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to findings presented at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference in London.

A recent Scientific American story describes the Oxford University research:

To test their idea, researchers asked subjects to view a disturbing film -- an admittedly poor but sufficient simulation of real trauma. Within six hours of viewing this film, the period during which memories are thought to be consolidated for long-term storage, test subjects were randomly assigned to one of three tasks: answering trivia; playing Tetris, a 1980s video game that involves optimizing visual-spatial cues; or engaging in nothing in particular.

Over the following week, subjects who had played Tetris reported experiencing significantly fewer flashbacks of the film than the others did. (For reasons that are unclear, those who answered trivia actually had the most flashbacks.) The finding supported previous research on Tetris therapy.

When played immediately following exposure to trauma, "the Tetris game had a protective effect," lead researcher Emily Holmes, a professor at Oxford, said. She and colleagues hypothesize that the visual-spatial demands of Tetris disrupt the formation of the mental imagery involved in flashbacks.

Researchers noted that these results do not suggest that playing video games is a substitute for conventional treatment of PTSD, but rather that this could offer an alternative method for addressing patients' symptoms.

Previously: Stanford and other medical schools to increase training and research for PTSD, combat injuries, As soldiers return home, demand for psychologists with military experience grows and Can training soldiers to meditate combat PTSD?
Photo by jon jordan

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