Playing Tetris, rated one of the greatest video games of all time, immediately after traumatic events appears to reduce flashbacks that plague sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a British study.
The preliminary findings could lead to new treatments to prevent or cut flashbacks that are a hallmark of the condition, also known as PTSD, Oxford University researchers said.
Only a first step
"This is only a first step in showing that this might be a viable approach to preventing post traumatic stress disorder," Emily Holmes, a psychologist who led the study, said.
"This was a pure science experiment about how the mind works from which we can try to understand the bigger picture," Holmes said in a statement.
PTSD can often stem from wartime trauma such as being wounded or seeing others hurt or killed.
Symptoms range from irritability and outbursts of anger to sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, extreme vigilance and an exaggerated startle response. People also can persistently relive the traumatic event.
The Oxford team showed a film to 40 healthy volunteers that included traumatic images of injury from several sources, including advertisements on the dangers of drunk driving.
Interfering with memory
After waiting 30 minutes, half the people played Tetris for 10 minutes while the others did nothing. Those who played the game had far fewer flashbacks to the film over the next week.
The game involves manipulating shapes composed of square blocks that fall down the screen to create a horizontal line of blocks without gaps. When a line is created it disappears.
The researchers believe that recognising the shapes and moving the coloured building blocks around in the computer game competes with the visions of trauma retained in the sensory part of the brain.
This process may somehow interfere with the way sensory memories are formed in the period following trauma and reduces the number of flashbacks experienced later on, they said this week in the Public Library of Science Journal PLoS ONE.
"We know there is a period of up to six hours in which it is possible to affect certain types of memories that are laid down in the human mind," Catherine Deeprose, who worked on the study, added in a statement.
"We have shown that in healthy volunteers, playing Tetris in this time window can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event."
(Reuters Health, January 2009)
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