Could video games one day be used as a ‘cognitive vaccine’? Oxford researchers believe that the classic game Tetris ( can, that it can lessen the debilitating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One of the characteristic symptoms of PTSD is flashbacks, “image-based, sensory-perceptual memories.” These can effectively be blocked by Tetris’s visual stimuli, which, causing players to recognize and manipulate colors and shapes, compete with traumatic visions in the brain. In the study, the researchers found that, of subjects subjected to traumatic images (the “trauma film paradigm,” a standard experimental fill-in for PTSD), those who played Tetris afterward had fewer flashbacks of those images the following week.

Memories can be disrupted up to six hours after an event occurs, so interfering with the part of the brain that stores them can effectively change or reduce them. Visual memory is particularly susceptible to interference.

“Playing ‘Tetris’ after viewing traumatic material reduces unwanted, involuntary memory flashbacks to that traumatic film, leaving deliberate memory recall of the event intact. Pathological aspects of human memory in the aftermath of trauma may be malleable using non-invasive, cognitive interventions. This has implications for a novel avenue of preventative treatment development, much-needed as a crisis intervention for the aftermath of traumatic events,” say the researchers.

Since there is only a six-hour window in which this treatment would be effective, the researchers recommend that something like a game of Tetris is included in emergency response.

[View study]

By Mark Alvarez