Can Tetris Help Treat PTSD

Tetris is the best-selling videogame of all time, but what if this simple computer game could relieve symptoms of an even more prevalent psychiatric disorder? Professor Henrik Kessler and Aram Kehyayan from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany studied possible links between Tetris and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder induced by stressful, recurrent memories called intrusions. “Our study is the first worldwide study to apply this Tetris paradigm in real patients with complex PTSD,” Kessler said. His study involved twenty patients undergoing a six-to-eight-week period of regular inpatient treatment. The treatment involved playing Tetris after writing about an intrusion. Sixteen of the twenty patients responded well to the treatment–reporting a sixty-four percent decrease in intrusions on average. Further studies with more patients and better controls are now under way to replicate these results. PTSD intrusions use visuospatial regions of the brain, which are also activated while playing Tetris. “You supposedly need the same working memory resources and capacity that an intrusion would require,” Kessler said. “Tetris could lock the processing of intrusions.” Another theory proposes that if you reactivate an old memory, it becomes vulnerable, and interference through Tetris can be performed to weaken the memory. While professional treatment is available for PTSD, few people utilize it. “The implications of this research are huge because this would mean that people who had traumatic experiences could mend their intrusions by themselves without needing professional help,” Kessler said.