Are you a survivor of a traumatic event? If you are, then you might want to think about playing Tetris, because according to new research, Tetris can help get rid of those flashbacks you are having. In a new study coming out of the United Kingdom, researchers have been investigating whether or not simple computer games like Tetris can help victims of trauma through the flashbacks and painful memories associated with the event.
The researchers are out of the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. The researchers were examining subjects that had seen video footage of actual traumatic events, including things like deadly accidents. The researchers then had some of the participants play Tetris to see if this simple game would help clear their minds of the gruesome situations they had just witnessed on television. The goal of the research was to help diminish the intrusive memories that were associated with the trauma, and such memories included flashbacks that were paralyzing and not able to be controlled through other means.
In the study, the participants played Tetris 24 hours after seeing the film containing the disturbing video footage, some of which was car accident and drownings. Those participants that had played Tetris ended up reporting fewer intrusive memories in the days after the first viewing. The researchers believed that playing games like Tetris helped reconfigure the visual memory, since the brain has to focus on both the visual game and memory of the film. This study was published in the journal Psychological Science, and goes into the details of some of the trauma that the participants had experienced. One of the participants was Marcel Proust, who had sudden childhood memories coming back and also suffered from flashbacks when watching war films.
The authors of the study did say that the study was limited since the traumatic images were only seen on television, and that is much different from the traumatic experiences that we deal with in our real lives. It is different when you are watching a traumatic event on television compared to those who experience the trauma first-hand, although the same types of brain mechanisms and chemicals are responsible for the way the person relates to the trauma. The authors of the study hope that the studies can be replicated in the near future, which could include people who were recently recovering from a real-life traumatic experience. Some people in the medical field remain skeptical of this new study, including Jaine Darwin, who is a Massachusetts-based psychologist who specializes in trauma and crisis intervention. Darwin said the study was interesting, but she was not sure that it could be applied to people who had actually survived real-life trauma. Darwin said that while you can be scared for days if you watch a scary movie, it is not the same since you lack the tactile association or smell of the real situation. It is these other senses, such as taste and smell that really are a big part of flashbacks and trauma, and the real smells and tactile associations are harder to get rid of.
Often times, a mental health professional will work with a patient to help them separate the events from themselves, which helps them view and digest the trauma from a safe place. When someone is just seeing a traumatic event on television, the only recommendation is to turn off the film to protect the person from the intrusive memories. Darwin did admit this was good solid research with an interesting hypothesis, but it needed a lot more in-depth research and proof before this could be applicable for other patients. In long-term psychotherapy, the point of the process is to change the narrative of the events, which is how you work through it, and Tetris might not really help change the narrative. The research is interesting though because it does bring up a point of how keeping your mind busy and allowing yourself to immerse your mind into something can really help when it comes to helping overcome traumatic events. Whether or not Tetris really does help is not even the main takeaway from the research, since it is more about learning to find something that allows you to get away from the memories and flashbacks, and also allows you to find enjoyment in something that is outside of building up interpersonal relationships in your real life.