Tetris vs. Trauma: Fight!!

The online journal PLoS One recently posted a study examining the effect of videogame play on traumatic memories. The authors were looking for a "cognitive vaccine" against post-traumatic stress; they argued that traumatic memories are sensory, visual-spatial images and that playing a videogame might disrupt the consolidation of those memories and therefore reduce flashbacks. Participants watched a traumatic film of real injuries and death. Following a 30-minute break, they either played Tetris for 10 minutes or were placed in a "no activity" group. For those of you who did not develop a finger-crippling Tetris addiction 15 years ago, it's a puzzle game in which rapidly-falling shapes have to be rotated to fit together. Those who played the game after watching the film experienced a significant reduction in flashbacks over the following week, but their memory of the film remained intact.

The researchers hypothesized that playing Tetris immediately following trauma might reduce the occurrence of intrusive memories by competing for visuospatial resources; this is one theory that has been proposed to explain the effectiveness of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Further research is needed, and the use of the game to "vaccinate" trauma survivors should be tested. It may be valuable to compare the effects of other games as well. Tetris may be convenient because it can be installed on mobile devices, but it is possible that its impact may be reduced if played on a smaller screen. Although the researchers examined the video game as a preventative measure, if it works on the same principles as EMDR, it may be worth investigating its effectiveness as a treatment for the disorder.

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