A new study out of Oxford University suggests that playing Tetris — the venerable puzzle game featuring interlocking shapes — can keep bad memories or flashbacks at bay, easing their frequency and impact on those who have experienced trauma.
The research, from the same scientists who wrote in 2009 that Tetris reduced flashback frequency when played within four hours of a trauma exposure, could lead to development of drug-free treatments for preventing or easing post-traumatic stress and other combat-related mental health conditions.
The most recent research involved showing 52 subjects graphic videos of car accidents and drownings and reminding them a day later of the carnage by showing them still images of the films.
Half the group then was asked to play Tetris after a brief break while the other half simply sat quietly.
A week later, the Tetris players reported far fewer flashbacks over that previous week than their counterparts, and they scored much lower on PTSD questionnaires, according to the report, published July 1 in Psychological Science.
“We showed that intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following memory reactivation,” wrote the research team from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and the Karolinska Institutet.
While the results are similar to the group’s previous work, the findings are thought to be more applicable for developing PTSD therapies because they indicate that visual-spatial games like Tetris may be useful in disrupting intrusive memories long after the causative event.
The earlier research had subjects playing Tetris within four hours of a trauma — an impractical scenario for most of life’s traumatic events.
Both studies contribute to the understanding of memory imprinting and recall, with the latest research finding that a combination of memory recall and Tetris can help disrupt involuntary recall of intrusive memories.
But researchers cautioned that the combination is key to the improved scores and reduced flashbacks among the game players, adding that their research found that “playing Tetris alone … or memory reactivation alone was [in]sufficient to reduce intrusion.”
They say more work is needed to confirm the findings and develop possible PTSD preventive therapies. But they added that the study raises some interesting questions about modern living and computer engagement.
“A critical next step is to investigate whether findings extend to reducing the psychological impact of real-world emotional events and media,” they wrote. “Conversely, could computer gaming be affecting intrusions of everyday events?”