Oxford University researchers may have found a “vaccine” against Post-traumatic Stress Disorder—playing Tetris. The video game, when played soon after a traumatic experience, was shown to reduce flashbacks, one of the more debilitating symptoms of PTSD. It’s thought that the activity prevents the brain from forming stressful memories that cause flashbacks later on.
To reach that conclusion, the team exposed 60 study participants to “a film of traumatic scenes of injury and death.” Thirty minutes later, participants were divvied into three groups: A lucky third of the group played Tetris, while their peers either took a 10-minute computerized trivia quiz or “sat quietly” doing nothing much at all. Participants were then freed from the lab, and asked to keep a week-long journal logging any traumatic flashbacks of the film.
According to the researchers, participants who had played Tetris reported significantly fewer flashbacks than their fellow study participants. More specifically, Tetris-players suffered an average of two flashbacks, those given no task suffered an average of 4.5, and those who took a trivia quiz were afflicted with eight flashbacks.
So, will PlayStations become standard first-aid equipment for the military? Not without a lot more research. But the idea that the brain can be distracted from forming traumatic memories holds promise.
This isn’t the first contribution that Tetris has made to the field of psychiatry. Robert Stickgold and a team at Harvard Medical School used the game in 2000 to show that our brains reinforce what we’ve learned through sleep.