Playing Tetris might help people avoid unwanted, distressing memories associated post-traumatic stress disorder. A new study from Oxford University finds that the visuospatial process of playing Tetris can block traumatic memories from surfacing.
In two different experiments, detailed in Psychological Science, participants watched a traumatic film in the lab that showed images of people dying or being seriously injured. The next day, some of them then played Tetris for a few minutes after completing a task designed to reactivate their memories of the film. Those who played the game reported fewer intrusive memories of the film later.
This trial follows up on a 2009 study by the same researchers that offered preliminary evidence that Tetris could reduce PTSD flashbacks. Emotional memories consolidate within six hours of a traumatic experience, according to the researchers, and are thereafter hard to change, but playing Tetris may impede the process of reconsolidating these memories. The treatment was more effective for people who viewed images designed to remind them of the film before playing Tetris than for participants who just came back to the lab to play the game.
Essentially, the working memory resources the brain needs to play Tetris are similar to those used to recall the traumatic visual memories. So playing the game interrupted the brain’s ability to reconsolidate those memories. Traumatic memories are cemented within just a few hours of an event, so in emergency situations, a quick game of Tetris could also be a way to reduce the brain's ability to file away those horrific images in the first place. This study didn’t examine people diagnosed with PTSD, so the effects may not be as strong in real-world practice as it was for people who just watched a violent film, but it nevertheless represents a unique way to approach treatment for trauma.
[h/t: The Takeaway]