Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? How about a game of Tetris

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According to researchers at Oxford University in the UK, playing the classic computer game Tetris, where coloured blocks are moved around the screen, can help reduce the flashbacks associated with post traumatic stress disorder.

Odd isn’t it that on the one hand we’re told spending too much time on the computer can trigger depression and anxiety, and yet now we’re being told that playing a mind numbing game like Tetris can help.

Anyway, here’s what the study involved and why the researchers believe Tetris can have a positive effect.

There were two separate experiments and in the first one, 60 participants were shown distressing images of accidents and death.

After a break of half an hour, a third of them were asked to play Tetris, another third played a pub quiz video game, and the final third did nothing at all.

The results showed that it was those playing Tetris that had fewer flashbacks of the distressing images they had been asked to watch earlier. This was true even in the second experiment when the break was extended to four hours.

“Our latest findings suggest Tetris is still effective as long as it is played within a four-hour window after viewing a stressful film” said Dr Emily Holmes of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, who led the work.

“Whilst playing Tetris can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event, we have shown that not all computer games have this beneficial effect – some may even have a detrimental effect on how people deal with traumatic memories.”

Interestingly, the ones playing the pub quiz appeared to suffer more from the effects of the traumatic scenes they had watched than any of the others.

The researchers reckon that Tetris somehow interferes with the visual memories in the brain and therefore helps to reduce flashbacks.

On the other hand playing the pub quiz is more likely to compete with the part of the brain that tries to understand what is happening and therefore increases the likelihood of flashbacks.

The study has been published in the Journal PloS One.

“Whist this work is still experimental, and any potential treatment is a long way off, we are beginning to understand how intrusive memories/flashbacks are formed after trauma, and how we can use science to explore new preventative treatments” said Dr Holmes.

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