Study suggests that Tetris can help prevent psychological trauma

Game reduces flashbacks and other symptoms of PTSD

A follow-up to a 2009 experiment which revealed therapeutic benefits of Tetris confirmed the study's finding and revealed a few new facts of its own.

Last year, Emily Holmes, a researcher at Oxford University, demonstrated that playing Tetris helped prevent the formation of unwanted memories, such as those of a particularly acute trauma. Holmes subjected volunteers to graphic images and had some of them play Tetris afterward. Those that played the game had fewer disturbing memories of the images than the control group.

The study indicates that Tetris may be able to helptreat post-traumatic stress disorder, something that can effect anybody who's suffered a significant trauma, including combat, abuse, assault, and even car accidents. One of the most painful symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, intrusive memories that are impossible not to think about or forget.

This time around, Holmes compared the flashbacks experienced by Tetris players to those who played a pub quiz game after exposure to traumatic imagery. The control group still played no game at all. Those that played Tetris had the fewest memories, while players of the pub quiz game fared even worse than the control. According to Holmes, this indicates that it's the “visual-spacial” aspect of the games that helps prevent traumatic memories from forming, meaning it's possible that any game requiring visual-spacial reasoning, from other puzzle games to racing games, might produce the same effect. More studies would need to be done to confirm this.

Holmes' study also revealed that the game wasn't merely serving as a distraction; it actually inhibited memory formation or reduced the traumatic impact of memories that were forming. The benefits of playing Tetris were apparent up to four hours after exposure to the imagery. Since flashbacks can take nearly six hours to form, the hope is that a treatment involving video game-like activities could be devised to allow victims to protect themselves in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.

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