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Can Tetris Prevent PTSD?

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. 


Down on the Farm

Working at research universities, one hears a lot about the “culture of entrepreneurship” at Stanford.  Ken Auletta’s article in The New Yorker outlines just what that phrase means and how the west-coast ivy forged a relationship with business that is uniquely symbiotic. 

If the Ivy League was the breeding ground for the élites of the American Century, Stanford is the farm system for Silicon Valley. When looking for engineers, Schmidt said, Google starts at Stanford. Five per cent of Google employees are Stanford graduates. The president of Stanford, John L. Hennessy, is a director of Google; he is also a director of Cisco Systems and a successful former entrepreneur. Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing has licensed eight thousand campus-inspired inventions, and has generated $1.3 billion in royalties for the university. Stanford’s public-relations arm proclaims that five thousand companies “trace their origins to Stanford ideas or to Stanford faculty and students.” They include Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, eBay, Netflix, Electronic Arts, Intuit, Fairchild Semiconductor, Agilent Technologies, Silicon Graphics, LinkedIn, and E*Trade.

John Doerr, a partner at the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which bankrolled such companies as Google and Amazon, regularly visits campus to scout for ideas. He describes Stanford as “the germplasm for innovation. I can’t imagine Silicon Valley without Stanford University.”

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Watches are a vanishing accessory among the young.  If you are younger than 24 years old there’s a 60 percent chance you don’t own one, or so says the Center for the Digital Future.  Not surprisingly, it’s the low end of the market that’s taken the hit.  The cheap utilitarian watch is being replaced by the cell phone.  The luxury market, on the other hand, has rebounded in recent years.  As jewelry watches are becoming nostalgic emblems of the analogue age.  A NYT article from last year identifies the trend among “heritage-macho types in their 20s and 30s who are drawn to the wristwatch’s retro appeal, just as they have seized on straight razors, selvedge denim and vintage vinyl.”

The demands of fashion aside, there’s good reason for watches to stay in production:  the wrist is (if you’ll forgive the pun) a handy place for a tool.  

Now a start-up called Pebble Technology is giving our wrists a new reason to be:  a device that communicates wirelessly with your cell phone to transmit reminders, text and email messages and alert you to incoming calls. Pebble can control music playback, track your workout and manage a host of other apps.  It also tells time.

Some 48,000 backers have funded Pebble on Kickstarter to the record-breaking tune of $7,149,712 on an initial goal of only $100,000. 


A condition coined in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The author, a Spanish physician, treated a patient with acute tendonitis, which he traced to the 29-year-old patient’s Wii game console.  See also Nintendinitis.