Playing the game Tetris can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, claim British scientists at Oxford University. Experts found that dropping the blocks positively alters the way negative thoughts are created following a trauma.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop following exposure to a psychological trauma - it often affects servicemen or women who have experienced combat in war zones, victims of crime, car crash victims or those who have come through debilitating illnesses.
The scientists claim playing the block-dropping game could help prevent flashbacks and other unwanted traumatic memories. But how? First they tested a group of people with no previous trauma or mental health problems. They were all shown a video containing disturbing images such as car accidents and open surgery. Then after a 30-minute break the group was split into three sub-groups.
One group were told to play Tetris, one group were told to play a game called Pub Quiz and the third group were asked to just sit quietly and do nothing.
They were also asked to keep a diary recording any flashbacks they experienced for a week after watching the horror video. Those in the Pub Quiz group experienced significantly more flashbacks than the other two groups. The test was carried out again - this time using a four-hour gap between watching the video and playing Tetris, Pub Quiz or sat quietly. The results were the same.
The study concluded that Tetris can be protective after a traumatic event because it interferes with the brain's ability to lay down visual memories. It is these same visual memories that later return as flashbacks.
Sky News quote the study authors as saying that they, "account for this based on current models of memory consolidation indicating that certain types of memory may be malleable for up to six hours."
The scientists believe the game, and others like it, may act as a "cognitive vaccine" against flashbacks. They believe it could be used as an alternative, or in addition to traditional treatments for PTSD, such as counselling and drug treatment.
Tetris was designed in the Soviet Union in 1984. It has sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide - and still sells today despite being a retro game. It can be easily added to an iPad, iPhone, Android or Blackberry as a game, and one can play online here.