Playing Tetris 'can help ward off symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder'

The intrusive memories that did occur went away more quickly.

Researchers from Oxford University and Sweden, as well as other organisations, studied 71 auto crash victims admitted to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Emily Holmes, professor of psychology at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Clinical Neuroscience, said: "Our hypothesis was that after a trauma, patients would have fewer intrusive memories if they got to play Tetris as part of a short behavioural intervention while waiting in the hospital emergency department".

Tetris, a tile-matching puzzle video game that was originally designed and programmed by a Russian developer and game designer Alexey Pajitnov, has been found to be effective in preventing post-traumatic syndrome disorder or otherwise known as PTSD.

Just one session of psychological therapy and time spent playing the classic game can prevent flashbacks, researchers say.

Researchers tested the game on 71 patients in a United Kingdom emergency room who were seeking care after a motor accident.

According to a statement from the Swedish Karolinska Institutet on Tuesday, researchers have been able to demonstrate how the survivors of auto accidents have fewer such symptoms if they play Tetris in hospital within six hours of admission.

There is a roughly a six-hour window of opportunity after a traumatic event for such an intervention to succeed, she noted. Over the next week, all participants noted any intrusive memories in a daily diary.

Holmes said that if more extensive studies prove equally successful, Tetris could end up being a viable therapy in other hospitals.

The academics behind the study said their findings are the beginnings of a case for rolling out video games in hospital waiting rooms on a larger scale - as a "therapeutic vaccine" to mental trauma before it fully forms.

The intervention's brevity, low cost and the fact that it can be administered by non-specialists also make it a viable and scalable option that could reach many.

The researchers hypothesized that the game Tetris is able to disrupt the formation of long-term memories about the traumatic event, reported by Live Science. "It would make a huge difference to a great many people if we could create simple behavioral psychological interventions using computer games to prevent post-traumatic suffering and spare them these grueling intrusive memories", she said.

One patient said the game helped stave off his recurring memory of smashing into a tree and hearing the sound of the air bag in his auto being activated. That's because the game requires high levels of visual attention, and the researchers reasoned that "Tetris" uses up some of the same resources in the brain needed to "store" visual memories of traumatic events.

  • Joanne Flowers