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article imagePlaying Tetris can help the recovery of trauma victims

By Tim Sandle     Apr 8, 2017 in Politics
Oxford - Can playing Tetris ease the minds after a traumatic event? New research suggests this is the case provided that the game is played within six hours of a traumatic incident happening.
A driver with trauma is unpleasant memories and how the mind produces these at different moments, causing sensations of anxiety. Not all memories are equal and some have greater impact than others. Some vivid memories, attached to emotiuon, can be beneficial - such as recalling a sports event or concert. Others, which activate similar neural network in the brain, are associated with a traumatic incident. An example might be a car crash. Here the recollections serve as a source of distress; they are “intrusive memories.” With intrusive memories, a person if fully aware of where and when they are (unlike a flashback, which temporarily takes over the sense of time and place); however, the memory keeps intruding into the mind.
Various treatments are used for traumatic memories, with varying degrees of success. The most common approach is Exposure Therapy. This involves revisiting the traumatic memory until it no longer evokes such strong emotions and physical responses. Alternatives include medications and more pioneering approaches, such as Trans-cranial Magnetic Stimulation (the use of a strong magnetic field located close to the brain).
A new approach has been tested at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. This, The Washington Post reports, involves disrupting the way vivid memories are formed. To achieve this the researchers used the classic computer puzzle game Tetris. The findings showed that when victims of motor vehicle accidents played Tetris, during a period six hours following the traumatic event, this led to fewer intrusive memories occurring in the week after the experience. As well as the game itself, the important factor was the time following the traumatic event. If more than six hours elapsed, the reduction in intrusive memories did not occur.
This is not the first time that Tetris has been used to reduce unpleasant memories. In 2015 Digital Journal's James Walker reported that scientists from the Cambridge Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences unit found that people who played Tetris within four hours of surviving a traumatic event experienced noticeably fewer flashbacks. This study was reported to the journal Psychological Science ("Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms.")
The new study builds on the earlier research. The study used 20 subjects. Ten people played Tetris on a Nintendo DS, following a car accident. The games lasted for about 20 minutes, including an uninterrupted stretch of 10 minutes or longer. The other ten people either sent text messages or completed crosswords. All patients then completed a journal for a month following their accidents. The people who played Tetris reported fewer intrusive memories.
The research has been published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, under the title "Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial."
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