People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face sleep problems, hyper-vigilance, and intrusive memories. Playing video games may help people with PTSD recover, finds a study from the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Most treatments for PTSD do not begin until a month or more after the traumatic event. The study’s researchers sought a more proactive treatment for the estimated seven percent of people who experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Their findings suggest that an early intervention can help people with PTSD limit intrusive memories.
The researchers focused on the issue of intrusive memories, which are recurring, visual memories that interfere with day-today life. They based their work on a previous study finding that playing the video game Tetris four hours after a traumatic event could reduce intrusive memories. Because expecting people to play Tetris four hours after a traumatic event is somewhat unreasonable, the researchers investigated whether video games 24 hours after trauma could reduce the risk of intrusive memories.
To test their theory, the research team conducted two experiments involving memory consolidation—recalling and modifying long-term memories. In the first experiment, they introduced intrusive memories to 52 participants through a 12-minute video of traumatic events. Twenty-four hours after watching the video, half of the participants viewed still images from the video to reactivate their memories. This half of the participants then completed a one-minute filler task, which gave their memories time to consolidate, then played Tetris for 12 minutes. The other half of the participants completed a filler task then sat quietly for 12 minutes. For the next week, the participants all kept a journal of their experiences with intrusive memories.
Participants whose memories were reactivated with images and who played Tetris experienced fewer intrusive memories than the control group. Next, the researchers investigated whether only playing Tetris or only activating memories was enough to reduce intrusive memories. They split the participants into four groups that performed tasks similar to those in the first study. The second experiment revealed that only the combination of memory reactivation and Tetris limited intrusive memories.
“Our findings suggest that, although people may wish to forget traumatic memories, they may benefit from bringing them back to mind, at least under certain conditions—those which render them less intrusive,” stated study co-author Ella James of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.
This research is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
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