Tetris treats trauma, study shows

A new study suggests that classic block-dropper Tetris may actually be a useful treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as an addictive game.

Tetris - Box Art

Soon available via prescription

The study, led by Emily Holmes, a senior research fellow in psychiatry at Oxford, aimed to discover an effective therapy for PTSD that can be administered within hours of the traumatic experience. Current forms of treatment – such as early intervention counselling – can actually make PTSD symptoms worse, so something new is desperately needed.

Tetris is known to rewire the brain to make it more efficient, so it’s only appropriate that it was the feature of this new study.

Various games were explored – including those which rely on trivia and language skills – but, according to the study (which appears in PLoS ONE), Tetris was unique in its therapeutic abilities.

The basis for the argument comes from the rapidly-changing visual puzzles and constant attention the game requires. PTSD sufferers expeience recurring and intrusive thoughts of traumatic events as part of their disorder – and playing Tetris seems to offer a level of protection against the flashbacks, possibly by distracting the brain and even “short-circuiting” the way the upsetting memories are stored.

A traditional and well-known lab model was used to explore the effects of Tetris on a selection of 60 volunteers in the UK. They were shown a series of upsetting film clips, including fatal car accidents, and then asked to record how often they experienced flashbacks from the film.

Tetris - GameBoy

Even without colour it's still effective

The researchers separated the volunteers into three groups. One group played a word-based computer game, the second played Tetris and the third sat quietly, alone with their thoughts.

The results were pretty quick to show themselves – participants who did nothing experienced 12 flashbacks within the first 10 minutes after watching film. Word-game players had six, and the group playing Tetris experienced just four.

Over the next week, participants recorded their flashback experiences in a diary – and the Tetris-effect appeared to last, experiencing fewer flashbacks compared to the control or word-game group. (Interestingly, the word-game group actually experienced more flashbacks when compared to the group who did nothing!)

Researchers concluded:

“A visuospatial task such as Tetris may offer a ‘cognitive vaccine’ against the development of PTSD flashbacks after exposure to traumatic events.”

…while the results may suggest Tetris as an effective way to ward off PTSD, more research is needed before doctors in the real world will start prescribing trauma victims a few levels of video games for the good of their mental state.


This story was featured in Episode 9 of playerattack News:

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