Could Playing Tetris Help with Traumatic Memories?

Classic videogames, with their bright colors, simple mechanics, and intuitive gameplay have long been a means of relaxation and enjoyment. In addition, various pieces of research point to some uses for videogames in therapy and training. One recent study conducted in the UK indicates that the game Tetris may be useful for preventing traumatic memories from forming.

Tetris and Flashbacks

The study, conducted by the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the Karolinska Institutet of Sweden showed that test subjects who played Tetris within 24 hours of watching videos of disturbing events had a marked decrease of intrusive memories such as flashbacks.

The videos, which included disturbing footage of vehicle accidents, drowning, and so on, were intended to simulate the types of traumatic experiences that would cause paralyzing flashbacks. In order to counteract the horrifying visual experience of the videos, the researchers had test subjects play the simple visual game of Tetris. The idea was to have the brain assimilate both the pleasant visual experience of gameplay at the same time that it would form memories of the negative experiences, thus decreasing the prevalence of traumatic memories.

Is There Enough Research?

While the research is interesting and shows some promise, it is far from sufficient for therapists to begin using with their patients. One of the main issues is that the focus was only on visual stimuli. The study used videos, which can only provide a detached visual input for the memory. While this can still have a significant effect on an individual for a few days, it is far from being the type of thing that lodges in the mind the way terrible experiences do. Seeing an image on a television screen is certainly not the same as actually experiencing it in person since it lacks other sensations (touch, smell, and so forth).

According to one Massachusetts psychologist, the usual immediate answer for dealing with traumatic experiences on-screen is as simple as turning off the television, phone, or computer. For those who actually experience traumatic events, psychotherapy is used to help the patient disassociate him- or herself from the event as if it were viewed through a screen or by a different person. This involves years of therapy to help the patient re-form their memories and modify them in a way that is less intrusive.

Even with its limitations, the study does indicate that Tetris may hold some answers for patients facing psychological trauma. More research will need to be conducted before it can be applied in a therapy setting.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Alfonso Legido