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Trauma Treatment: Tetris

This seemed too good to be true, but by Godfrey, the results have been duplicated:

Researchers are now corroborating what some trauma sufferers have happened upon by chance: Focusing on a highly engaging visual-spatial task, such as playing video games, may significantly reduce the occurrence of flashbacks, the mental images concerning the trauma that intrude on the sufferer afterwards.

Video game play immediately after a traumatic incident may prevent flashbacks by keeping the brain's visual circuits busy.

When clients call in panic after a traumatic experience,  this could be an immediate it’s-worth-a-try intervention to recommend. One with no wait time, no need for insurance company panels, and virtually no risk of harm. The researchers don’t claim  Tetris should be recommended above other games, but it’s worth noting the game is cheap or free for smart phones and other platforms.  It’s an abstract geometry game unlikely to trigger emotional memories. Compared with some, it’s downright pacifying – one would hardly recommend Call of Duty to a client who just witnessed a shooting.

One point of fascination:

To test their idea, researchers asked subjects to view a disturbing film — an admittedly poor but sufficient simulation of real trauma. Within six hours of viewing this film, the period during which memories are thought to be consolidated for long-term storage , test subjects were randomly assigned to one of three tasks: answering trivia; playing Tetris, a 1980s video game that involves optimizing visual-spatial cues; or engaging in nothing in particular. Over the following week, subjects who had played Tetris reported experiencing significantly fewer flashbacks of the film than the others did. (For reasons that are unclear, those who answered trivia actually had the most flashbacks.) (emphasis added)

Neurologists have suggested traumatization may work as a memory problem, in that the traumatic memories can’t be remembered well enough to be filed and stored correctly.  The researchers in this study believe the game occupied the visual and spatial circuits of the subjects’ brains, and kept them from consolidating the traumatic images. Could  it be that recalling bits of trivia hampered the hippocampus‘  ability to cope with the memory of the film?

Promising first-aid for trauma: video games.  Asterisk: Tetris, yes. You Don’t Know Jack, no.

@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder