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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Playing Tetris May Reduce Traumatic Flashbacks

Study Examines Potential of Computer Games as Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
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By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 11, 2010 -- Some computer games are more effective than others at reducing traumatic flashbacks, according to a study.

Researchers led by Emily Holmes, a senior research fellow at Oxford University in England, compared the effects of playing two different types of computer games -- Tetris and Pub Quiz Machine 2008 -- or doing nothing when trying to minimize traumatic flashbacks.

The study showed those who played Tetris experienced fewer traumatic flashbacks while those who played PubQuiz actually experienced more.

Tetris is a puzzle computer game involving the manipulation of colored blocks; Pub Quiz is a computerized word game.

The study involved two experiments. In the first, 60 healthy people were shown a film about injury and death and the dangers of drunken driving. After waiting for 30 minutes after the film ended, participants were divided into three groups: playing Tetris for 10 minutes, playing Pub Quiz for 10 minutes, or doing nothing. There were no differences in the three groups with regard to age, depression, anxiety, and exposure to trauma. Flashbacks about the traumatic film were recorded in a diary for the following week.

The second experiment repeated the first one, but with 75 healthy participants, and this time, the wait from the time the film ended until the intervention was extended to four hours. Participants were randomly assigned to either do nothing, play Tetris, or play Pub Quiz.

In both experiments, the Tetris players reported fewer flashbacks while the Pub Quiz players reported significantly more flashbacks.

“Our latest findings suggest Tetris is still effective as long as it is played within a critical six-hour window after viewing a stressful film,” Holmes says in a news release. “Playing Tetris can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event. We have shown that not all computer games have this beneficial effect -- some may even have a detrimental effect on how people deal with traumatic memories.”

The findings may have implications for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder, in which traumatic flashbacks are a hallmark symptom.

The study results are published in the November issue of PLoS ONE.

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