New study shows that Tetris can help to treat PTSD!
Researchers from Cambridge University found that Tetris can help people coping with traumatic experiences. Emily Holmes is the head researcher for the team studying this innovative treatment.
- 52 people aged 18- 51 were asked to process a twelve-minute film (including eleven different scenes involving death). One scene involved a young girl hit by a car; another one was of a man drowning in the sea.
- Participants were asked to keep a diary throughout the following week to document any “intrusive memories” they received (as a result of viewing the film).
- After watching the film participants were brought back to the lab and split into two groups: The “reactivation-plus-Tetris group” and the control group.
- The Tetris group was shown 11 still shots from the film and asked to spend 10 minutes rating classical music.
- Tetris group was then asked to play Tetris for 12 minutes.
- The control group was given no film stills or Tetris.
- At the end of the week both groups answered questionnaires normally given to PTSD sufferers.
Results of the questionnaire showed that the group that played Tetris experienced 51 percent fewer intrusive memories then the control group.
Emily Holmes reported that playing Tetris creates a ‘cognitive blockade’ since it involves using a high level of visual processing. This, in turn, pushes out some of the flashback visuals from the traumatic film. So the individual will remember the film, but not in such graphic detail.
Emily Holmes explained:
“Currently, there are recommended treatments for PTSD once it has become established, that is, at least 1 month after the traumatic event, but we lack preventative treatments that can be given earlier. Our findings suggest that, although people may wish to forget traumatic memories, they may benefit from bringing them back to mind, at least under certain conditions – those which render them less intrusive.”
Holmes suggests that further studies will be required, but expects that the end result will be a new method for helping PTSD sufferers deal with “intrusive memories”. She continued:
“Better treatments are much needed in mental health. We believe the time is ripe to use basic science about mechanisms – such as research on memory reconsolidation – to inform the development of improved and innovative psychological treatment techniques”
Jaine Darwin, a psychologist who works with trauma victims, finds the Tetris study fascinating but is sceptical about its practical use with actual trauma patients. She feels that real life trauma might be harder to “erase” than the heebee jeebee’s you get from simply watching a scary movie. She states:
“If you watch a horror movie, you can get scared for days. You lack the smell or tactile association.”
The current treatment for PTSD (and trauma related conditions) is to help the individual separate themselves from the event. The separation gives them the headspace and means to cope with their experience from a safe space. Darwin talked about why current treatment works saying that “memory in general is malleable and it changes over time. In long-term psychotherapy, [patients] construct a new narrative”.
Holmes and her research team now aim to study whether other visual processing tasks could have similar effects.