Tetris might help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks

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The classic video game Tetris may soon have a new function that doesn’t involve hours of procrastination.

Oxford University researchers think the game might help prevent the flashbacks that can signal the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Tetris, they said in a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE, could be a “cognitive vaccine” if played soon after exposure to traumatic events.

Researchers used two experiments. In one, 60 healthy participants watched a film featuring scenes involving injury and death. Then, after a half-hour break, one-third of the group played Tetris while the rest played a quiz-style video game or did nothing.

The Tetris players were found to have the fewest flashbacks; the players of the quiz players had the most. Researchers theorized that players who used language and trivia skills were tapping a different part of their brains that couldn’t interfere with the flashbacks, which use visual images.

The second experiment was nearly identical but involved 78 participants who took a four-hour break after viewing the film. The results were roughly the same.

But the “protective effect” of Tetris needs to be further studied before it can be prescribed as treatment for combat soldiers or accident survivors, researchers cautioned. They released a similar report last year that didn’t include the quiz game element or the four-hour wait.


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-- Tiffany Hsu