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New Research Points to Tetris as Balm for Trauma

New Research Points to Tetris as Balm for Trauma

tetris

Good news for gamers! Swedish and British researchers working out of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute are looking at something a little unusual right now — the health benefits of sitting on your duff and playing a video game — specifically, the perennial classic, Tetris.
 
The benefits seem to be to mental health, and involve counteracting the intrusive, painful memories that can occur as a result of trauma. The small study the researchers set up (recently published in Nature) involved patients admitted to a UK hospital in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. While in the emergency room waiting to be checked out, participants were invited to either play twenty minutes of Tetris, or complete an activity log of everything that happened to them since they entered the hospital (this was the control group).
 
The researchers found that, in the first week after their accidents, the patients who played Tetris had 62% fewer bad memories than the patients who did the log — and, the memories faded more quickly for them than for their unlucky, paper-pushing counterparts.
 
The researchers are keen to set up a more comprehensive study, because this one points to an interesting function of the disruption of memory. Literally playing Tetris could theoretically be an early therapy for post-traumatic and acute stress disorders because its action can get in the way of a patient’s brain consolidating memories immediately after a terrible event.
 
“Traumatic memories are often highly sensory: Sights and sounds of a trauma can flash back in horrifying detail. [Psychology professor and study lead author Emily] Holmes believes that any highly visual activity that stimulates the brain’s sensory centers might prevent graphic recollections from forming in the first place. The colors, shapes and constant movement of Tetris may do just that, but based on Holmes’ past research, activities like digital pub quizzes and counting exercises do not. She plans to study other visually engaging interventions like drawing and the video game Candy Crush in the near future.”
 
Even though I have one, and I witness the world through its frame every day, I’m often taken aback by how startlingly complex in all its aspects the human brain really is. And I find it quite fitting that something as simple as an addictive little video game can interrupt a spiraling process, and jump start this important organ back to health! I’m looking forward to the continuing research into this therapy — who knows, really, when any of us might need it.