Can Tetris Treat PTSD?
Can playing a computer game help treat post-traumatic stress disorder? That's what a new study suggests.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is marked by vivid flashbacks of traumatic events that torture soldiers, rape victims and victims of other types of trauma. Emily Holmes of University of Oxford and her colleagues speculated that playing the computer game Tetris shortly after experiencing a trauma might help prevent the flashbacks. Since the mental images from the game are stored in the same parts of the brain as traumatic memories, the idea is that playing the game right after the trauma might prevent the traumatic memories from getting fixed in in the brain. They call the approach a "cognitive vaccine" that could "inoculate" people against flashbacks. Previous research had shown that there is a period of up to six hours in which it is possible to affect certain types of memories from being laid down in the brain.
So Holmes and her colleagues asked 40 healthy volunteers to watch a 12-minute film that included traumatic images of injuries from a variety of sources, including advertisements highlighting the dangers of drunken driving. After waiting 30 minutes, 20 of the volunteers played Tetris for 10 minutes while the other half did nothing. The popular video game involves moving colored building blocks around a computer screen; the researchers chose it because previous studies had shown that some players report experiencing visual images of the game after playing it. That suggested those images might prevent the traumatic images from getting implanted in the brain.
In fact, the researchers found that the study subjects who had played Tetris experienced significantly fewer flashbacks to the film over the next week than those who had not, the researchers reported yesterday in the scientific journal PLos One. In addition, those who played Tetris tested lower on a standardized test used to measure symptoms of trauma.
The researchers stress that the results are preliminary and need to be followed up with additional research. But if they are confirmed, they suggest that this may offer a new strategy for treating PTSD.
January 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Mental Health
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