Harnessing Tetris for Trauma Recovery

The Inno­v­a­tive Inter­sec­tion of Video Gam­ing and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Ther­a­py for Trau­ma Sur­vivors

Play­ing Tetris, a seem­ing­ly sim­ple video game, has been found to have an unex­pect­ed and pro­found effect on indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­enc­ing Post-Trau­mat­ic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) and those deal­ing with the after­math of non­phys­i­cal trau­ma. The con­nec­tion between play­ing Tetris and mit­i­gat­ing the symp­toms of PTSD hinges on the game’s abil­i­ty to occu­py the brain in a man­ner that pre­vents the con­sol­i­da­tion of trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries, a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­play between cog­ni­tive engage­ment and emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion.

The Sci­ence Behind Tetris and PTSD
Research sug­gests that the act of play­ing Tetris short­ly after expe­ri­enc­ing a trau­mat­ic event can reduce the flash­backs asso­ci­at­ed with PTSD. This effect is attrib­uted to the game’s abil­i­ty to inter­fere with the way trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries are processed and stored in the brain. Tetris demands visu­al-spa­tial atten­tion and prob­lem-solv­ing skills, engag­ing the brain’s cog­ni­tive resources that might oth­er­wise be used to relive and con­sol­i­date trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries in the hours fol­low­ing trau­ma.

Cog­ni­tive Inter­fer­ence
The prin­ci­ple under­ly­ing this ther­a­peu­tic effect is known as “cog­ni­tive inter­fer­ence.” Play­ing Tetris cre­ates a cog­ni­tive load that com­petes with the sen­so­ry mem­o­ries (images, sounds) of the trau­ma, pre­vent­ing them from becom­ing intru­sive. Since the brain has a lim­it­ed capac­i­ty for what it can process at any giv­en time, engag­ing in a visu­al­ly absorb­ing task like Tetris can pre­clude the encod­ing of trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries in an intru­sive, debil­i­tat­ing man­ner.

Appli­ca­tion for Non­phys­i­cal Trau­ma
Non­phys­i­cal trau­ma, which includes emo­tion­al or psy­cho­log­i­cal stress result­ing from expe­ri­ences such as severe bul­ly­ing, wit­ness­ing vio­lence, or endur­ing sig­nif­i­cant emo­tion­al loss, can also man­i­fest symp­toms sim­i­lar to PTSD, includ­ing intru­sive thoughts and flash­backs. The cog­ni­tive inter­fer­ence pro­vid­ed by play­ing Tetris may sim­i­lar­ly ben­e­fit indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­enc­ing dis­tress from non­phys­i­cal trau­mas by lim­it­ing the intru­sive nature of painful mem­o­ries.

Broad­er Impli­ca­tions
The use of Tetris as a tool to mit­i­gate the effects of trau­ma sug­gests a broad­er impli­ca­tion for dig­i­tal games and cog­ni­tive tasks in ther­a­peu­tic con­texts. It high­lights an inno­v­a­tive, acces­si­ble approach to ear­ly post-trau­ma inter­ven­tions, poten­tial­ly offer­ing a sim­ple yet effec­tive strat­e­gy for emer­gency psy­cho­log­i­cal care. This approach aligns with the broad­er spec­trum of ther­a­pies aimed at man­ag­ing PTSD and trau­ma-relat­ed symp­toms, includ­ing tra­di­tion­al ther­a­pies like Cog­ni­tive Behav­ioral Ther­a­py (CBT) and EMDR, by pro­vid­ing an imme­di­ate, non-inva­sive method to help pre­vent the onset of symp­toms.

Con­clu­sion
The ther­a­peu­tic poten­tial of play­ing Tetris post-trau­ma rep­re­sents a con­ver­gence of neu­ro­science, psy­chol­o­gy, and tech­nol­o­gy, offer­ing a nov­el method for address­ing the ini­tial symp­toms of PTSD and the effects of non­phys­i­cal trau­ma. While not a stand­alone treat­ment, it intro­duces an acces­si­ble, imme­di­ate inter­ven­tion that could com­ple­ment exist­ing ther­a­pies and sup­port indi­vid­u­als in the crit­i­cal hours fol­low­ing trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences. As research con­tin­ues to explore the rela­tion­ship between cog­ni­tive tasks and trau­ma recov­ery, it opens the door to a wider range of non-tra­di­tion­al ther­a­pies that har­ness the brain’s capac­i­ty for heal­ing in the after­math of trau­ma.

Ref­er­ences

Holmes, E. A., James, E. L., Coode-Bate, T., & Deep­rose, C. (2009). Can play­ing the com­put­er game “Tetris” reduce the build-up of flash­backs for trau­ma? A pro­pos­al from cog­ni­tive sci­ence. PLoS ONE, 4(1), e4153. This study explores the poten­tial of Tetris in inter­fer­ing with the con­sol­i­da­tion of trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries, propos­ing a nov­el approach to ear­ly post-trau­ma inter­ven­tions.

Iyadu­rai, L., Black­well, S. E., Meis­er-Sted­man, R., et al. (2018). Pre­vent­ing intru­sive mem­o­ries after trau­ma via a brief inter­ven­tion involv­ing Tetris com­put­er game play in the emer­gency depart­ment: a proof-of-con­cept ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. Mol­e­c­u­lar Psy­chi­a­try, 23, 674–682. This research pro­vides evi­dence of the effec­tive­ness of a brief inter­ven­tion involv­ing Tetris in pre­vent­ing intru­sive mem­o­ries among indi­vid­u­als who expe­ri­enced trau­ma, high­light­ing the game’s poten­tial ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits.

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