When a person experiences a traumatic incident, there’s not a whole lot doctors can do to prevent a patient from developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s an issue that scientists have devoted plenty of research to try to understand and treat. But recently, a new study suggests that playing a bit of Tetris, that oh-so-simple and practically mindless video game, within hours after a traumatic event can help prevent PTSD from gaining traction within the victim’s neural pathways.
The game distracts the mind from replaying the incident over and over again on a loop and burning itself into the memory — this formation of “intrusive memories” is something that has previously been ineffectively treated.
“An intrusive memory is a visual memory of a traumatic event,” Emily Holmes, a psychology professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and lead author of the study, told CNN. “Tetris also requires imagination and vision. Your brain can’t do two things at once, so this interrupts.”
The study tested the hypothesis on 71 people who came into a U.K. emergency room following car accidents. Half of them (the control group) were given the regular treatment, while the other half were asked to recall the event and then play Tetris.
Those who spent part of their ER visit fitting little digital blocks into place reported 62 per cent fewer accident-related memories the following week.
To see whether the Tetris strategy has similar long-term benefits, the next step for Holmes and her team will be to test the results over a longer period of time.
Researchers will be also be searching for other types of activities that may have this helpful memory-interrupting quality. Until then, if a loved one should find themselves in the ER following a potentially scarring incident, you might want to suggest passing the time with a nice game of Tetris.