Tetris to Prevent PTSD?

As odd as it may sound, a recent study found that victims of traumatic events that played Tetris following the trauma were less likely to develop PTSD and suffer flashbacks of the event.

Many of you may be familiar with the popular computer game, which requires players to guide various shapes into stacks with the goal of preventing any empty gaps.   The study found that the game drew on ‘visuospatial’ resources – the same resources involved in visual flashback of traumatic events – and if played after a traumatic event, Tetris competes for these limited resources, preventing them from being used to develop future flashbacks.

“Our data is the first indication that the manipulation of visuospatial processing in the consolidation phase of recently activated trauma memories can serve to modulate future intrusive, involuntary flashbacks (despite leaving voluntary memory intact). “Tetris” participants experience fewer intrusions even while playing the game, supporting the competition for resources rationale.” – Emily A. Holmes, Ella L. James, Thomas Coode-Bate, and Catherine Deeprose of the University of Oxford

One suggested reason for the proven effectiveness of EMDR is related to a similar manipulation of visuospatial processing through the use of eye movements during treatment.  Researchers suggest that EMDR and the Tetris prevention method are effective for the same reason — they distract the visuospatial resources of the brain — an interesting conclusion which may lead to important discoveries surrounding the exact reasons EMDR works the way that it does.  For more information on the study, please click here.

What do you think of this study and their association between this new prevention concept and EMDR?

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About EMDR

The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) is a professional association where EMDR practitioners and EMDR researchers seek the highest standards for the clinical use of EMDR. EMDR is an accepted psychotherapy by leading mental health organizations throughout the world for the treatment of a variety of symptoms and conditions. This website provides information to the greater EMDR community including clinicians, researchers, and the public that our members serve.

4 thoughts on “Tetris to Prevent PTSD?

  1. This is such an interesting idea, and so easy to implement. I have read before about Inderal being given to block the adrenaline surge that seems to be connected with the formation of PTSD in a certain percentage of the population. Publicizing the idea of playing Tetris seems much more accessible to the general public.

    It’s interesting for me to remember that after our very large earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 I was seeing at 25 – 30 patients a week, all with the same trauma. Although my own earthquake experience wasn’t too bad, I definitely experienced some vicarious traumatization from hearing the same stories hour after hour. I remember playing an inordinate amount of computer solitaire in between sessions, which I had never done previously. Could be the same mechanism?

  2. I think this is interesting also. I have PTSD/DID, and I have always liked “puzzle type” games. Though I do not play Tetris (I play other similar games:Luxor, MahJong Tiles, etc), I have found that when I play these puzzle games they help me to destress, relax, and get grounded. Because of this I had often wondered if the scrolling images and dual attention (attention to the game and attention to what’s going on internally)had a somewhat similar effect. It’s just interesting for me that I was noticing a way in which it was calming to my system and here they have done research that is similar. Just interesting…
    Secret Shadows

  3. I found this site after googling “EMDR solitaire!” I’ve been diagnosed with mild bipolar spectrum disorder, after having a lifetime of what one PA called “free-floating anxiety.” I told my bipolar-pharmacology-expert shrink that for some reason, my anxiety is ameliorated when I play computer solitaire. He just gave me a little smile and continued the session. Glad I found out about the Tetris study. (Wow, scientific research that says it’s helpful to goof off! [grin])

  4. The connection between Tetris and EMDR occurred to me as soon as the article about Tetris and PTSD appeared. When playing Tetris, the eyes typically scan both vertically and laterally. The lateral movements, at least, closely resemble those in EMDR. Vertical eye movements also appear helpful in inducing a relaxation response during EMDR.

    The mechanisms are therefore likely the same in both processes. The conclusion of the Tetris study, however, that the mechanism is competition for visual spatial resources, appears more of a hypothesis than an evidence based explanation. It is just as likely that other proposed mechanisms of action for EMDR, such as reprocessing a memory by alternately activating both hemispheres and changing the neural pattern of recall, account for the Tetris phenomenon as well.

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