Video games may help prevent PTSD

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Mar 30, 2017

Trauma is basically your brain’s way of saying, “#$% you, survivor!” But for those who suffer from this debilitating condition, help may be a game away.

Specifically Tetris.

According to a paper in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found 71 patients at a hospital in Oxford, UK, who had either experienced or witnessed a motor vehicle accident. These hospitalized patients were asked to write down any intrusive—that is, unwanted, uncontrollable, and typically frightening—thoughts, whenever they occurred. Of those patients, 37 of them were also asked to play Tetris on a Nintendo DS.

The result? Researchers write that the game-players experienced fewer intrusive memories, and when the incidents did occur, they were of shorter duration.

While the Tetris gamers experienced an average of 8.7 intrusive thoughts, the non-gamers felt them a whopping average of 23.2 times.

There may be a reason for this. According to a research clinical psychologist and author Lalitha Iyadurai and her colleagues, the forming of memories from short term to long term (memory consolidation) may be disrupted by a cognitive bait and switch:

Cognitive science predicts that cognitive tasks with high visuospatial demands will selectively disrupt sensory (predominantly visual) aspects of memory (i.e. those that underpin intrusions) via competition for limited cognitive resources when that memory is labile. Combined, these insights suggest that engaging in cognitive tasks with high visuospatial demands during the time window of trauma memory consolidation may reduce the occurrence of subsequent intrusive visual memories of trauma.

Because of this, the authors opine that highly visual games, such as Candy Crush, would be better at preventing traumatic thoughts than games with a verbal component, like crossword puzzles.

Unfortunately, both groups were followed up one month later, and the difference between their number of disturbing thoughts were negligible—unfortunate, because it means there is no simple solution to prevent PTSD. Still, the one-week results are enough evidence that a further study needs to be done on videogames and the prophylactic effect on the brain in preventing trauma…

…which implies that, and in addition to bandages and sutures, perhaps emergency rooms should be stocked with Nintendo Switches.

(Via ArsTechnica)