People who have witnessed a violent event are often plagued by traumatic memories, sometimes lasting many years. Who would have thought that playing Tetris could be a remedy to lessen the trauma?
Researchers at Oxford University hypothesized that playing Tetris after witnessing violence would sap some of the cognitive resources the brain would normally rely on to form memories. In the study (available in full at PLos ONE), participants were exposed to a 12-minute film containing real injury and death, and then given a 30-minute break.
After the break, one group was asked to play Tetris for 10 minutes while the other group did nothing. For the following week, both groups were monitored to determine how much flashback memory they were experiencing. The group that played Tetris experienced significantly less flashback and significantly less post traumatic stress.
In effect, Tetris acted like a ‘cognitive vaccine’ against traumatic memory. From the study:
The rationale for a ‘cognitive vaccine’ approach is as follows: Trauma flashbacks are sensory-perceptual, visuospatial mental images. Visuospatial cognitive tasks selectively compete for resources required to generate mental images. Thus, a visuospatial computer game (e.g. “Tetris”) will interfere with flashbacks. Visuospatial tasks post-trauma, performed within the time window for memory consolidation, will reduce subsequent flashbacks.
Memory research suggests that there’s about a 6-hour window immediately after witnessing trauma during which memory formation can be disrupted. The results of this study indicate that if you happen to have Tetris or a game like it handy during those six hours, it’s the cure for what ails you.
hat tip: Very Short List: Science
Link to Tetris online