While researchers at John Hopkins University are working hard to help people erase bad memories, a team of scientists at Oxford University have discovered how to use video games to reduce traumautic flashbacks.
Researchers have found that the video game Tetris has the ability to reduce flashbacks after viewing traumatic images. Other games used do not have the same impact, in fact some games worsen the effect.
The researchers compared the effectiveness of Tetris at reducing flashbacks with Pub Quiz Machine 2008, a word-based quiz game. They found that playing Tetris reduced flashbacks while Pub Quiz increased them.
In the first of two experiments, researchers had healthy adults watch a film containing traumatic content. Thirty minutes after the film, 20 volunteers played Tetris for 10 minutes, 20 played Pub Quiz and 20 were instructed to just do nothing.
The researchers found that people in the Tetris group reported fewer flashbacks of images from the film than people in the Pub Quiz and those who did nothing.
The study's second experiment was extended to four hours, with 25 volunteers in each group. Again, Tetris players experienced significantly fewer flashbacks.
"Our latest findings suggest Tetris is still effective as long as it is played within a critical six-hour window after viewing a stressful film," said Dr Emily Holmes of Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry. "While playing Tetris can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event, we have shown that not all computer games have this beneficial effect – some may even have a detrimental effect on how people deal with traumatic memories."
The researchers suggest that a cognitive vaccine treatment could be developed to help reduce flashbacks experienced in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"While this work is still experimental, and any potential treatment is a long way off, we are beginning to understand how intrusive memories/flashbacks are formed after trauma, and how we can use science to explore new preventative treatments," said Dr. Holmes.
A report of the research published in this week's edition of the journal PLoS ONE can be found here.