Tetris can help block flashbacks of traumatic events

Posted Jul 8, 2015 by James Walker
A study has found that playing Tetris can help people recover from post-traumatic stress disorder and overcome the repeated flashbacks it triggers. In a new investigation, playing Tetris reduced the number of memories of the event by over 50 percent.
Screenshot of Tetris game
Tetris, the ubiquitous puzzle game, was invented in 1984, and has since become one of the most popular games in the world
photo by watz
The healing effects of Tetris were first demonstrated in 2009, as Gizmodo reports. Researchers 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 less flashbacks than those who did not play the iconic game.
Since then, more research has been undertaken to see if the four-hour time window can be expanded. A follow-up report by Holmes, detailed in New Scientist, has found that Tetris can continue to alleviate the symptoms even once the memory has become firmly lodged inside the brain, a few hours after the traumatic event was experienced.
Holmes conducted experiments with 56 participants. They were shown video footage of traumatic events designed to distress them before being left for a day. When they returned, a series of still images taken from the footage retriggered the memories but the recall made it possible for them to be modified artificially.
At this point, Tetris was brought back into play. Half of the people participating in the study played a game of Tetris for 12 minutes. The other half sat still. Both groups were then left for a week and asked to report any flashbacks of the events.
The results show that those who were able to play Tetris ultimately recalled the distressing footage 51 percent less than those who sat and did nothing. Questionnaires proved that the people who played Tetris ended up suffering a much milder form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is believed that playing games like Tetris disturb the vivid imagery of traumatic events. Because the game requires players to very quickly process visual imagery, the memory is made less vivid and less likely to recur.
Although the event can still be voluntarily recalled and remembered, it should not present itself as often in random flashbacks. This is the effect that the team observed in the investigation.
There is still some work to do before Tetris can become an actual recommended treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The team has already trialed the game in hospital emergency departments on people who are victims of road accidents, but they now need to investigate how long the effect lasts. Holmes believes that other visually-intensive games may also work, including hit titles like Candy Crush Saga.