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Playing Tetris can reduce onset of PTSD after trauma

30 March 2017

A single dose of psychological therapy, including a stint playing the classic video game, might ward off symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers found.

Having taken part in the psychological intervention including playing Tetris was found to reduce the number of intrusive memories participants experienced by 62 percent in the subsequent week compared to those in the control group.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect people who have experienced war, torture, rape, road accidents or other kinds of situations in which they felt their life, or that of another person, was in danger, researchers said.

Traumatic events can cause people to experience "intrusive memories"-distressing recollections that occur without warning, summoning the sights, sounds and feelings connected to the painful incident".

Experts from Oxford University, the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and other organisations found that such flashbacks are less common among those who played the tile-matching puzzle game in an emergency department.

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Researchers found that vehicle crash survivors who played "Tetris" in the emergency room within six hours of their crashes had 62 percent fewer flashbacks during the week following the event, compared with auto crash survivors who performed a different task in the emergency room.

Holmes said that her team's findings suggest that engaging in "very visually demanding tasks soon after a trauma" can "help block or disrupt the memory being stored in an overly vivid way".

The window of opportunity is short, however, as Holmes says there's just a six-hour window for effective intervention. They were asked to visualize the crash and then play Tetris.

Scientists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia have previously found that it can help in curbing cravings for addictive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine.

Professor Emily Holmes, of the Karolinska, said: "It would make a huge difference to a great many people if we could prevent post-traumatic suffering and spare them these gruelling intrusive memories". Researchers wrote that the game acts as a "therapeutic vaccine" of sorts, appearing to prevent the formation of traumatic memories. In the "Tetris" group, participants were first asked to recall the accident and briefly tell a researcher about it. "I think playing Tetris helped focus my mind and bring some "normality" back to my head".

Playing Tetris can reduce onset of PTSD after trauma