The small, brightly coloured Tetris squares could one day become the building blocks of robust mental health, according to new research from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK.
The small study lead by Emily Holmes, a professor in psychology, has shown that playing the game could reduce the risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The New Scientist reports that 20 per cent of people who have been involved in a car accident often go on to develop PTSD and while there are options available to treat the condition, there is nothing to prevent its onset in the first few days after a traumatic incident has occurred.
"After any event, there is a window of about six hours where memories are consolidated and cemented in the mind."
One of the factors that contribute to this consolidation is sleep and in most cases, it is the flashbacks of traumatic events that lead to PTSD.
According to Holmes, during this sequence of events, there is a period when the memories are “malleable” and can be “reshaped.”
With all the colours and constant movement, Tetris is a game that requires players to constantly process a stream of visual stimuli, which in turn reduces the strength of traumatic memories.
This effectively means that although people will be able to remember an event, they are less likely to trigger the disturbing flashbacks that lead to PTSD.
In theory, this principle could be applied to any game, including Candy Crush that is visually demanding.
While the findings do have the potential to change the way trauma victims are treated in hospitals, police stations and asylum centres, the study’s results are still a long way off from being incorporated into everyday practice.
Holmes’ research is based on a small study involving 56 people who were all exposed to a “distressing” event that included watching video footage of distressing events.
The next day, researchers used images from the footage to reactivate the participants’ memories of the events they had seen earlier.
During this time, half the group spent 12 minutes playing Tetris while the other half sat quietly for the same length of time.
Holmes and team note the group that played Tetris experienced fewer intrusive memories compared to the participants that did not.
Before the game is scaled up for treatment, researchers are testing it to see if it will work in real life trauma scenarios, including hospital emergency rooms.
While they are still unsure of how robust this method is in staving off PTSD in the long term, Holmes told The New Scientist that even if the effect is minimal, it is still worth it.
"Think of it like hand washing. Hand washing is not a fancy intervention, but it can reduce all sorts of illness. This is similar – if the experimental result translates, it could be a cheap preventative measure informed by science."