09:16 08 January 2009
British researchers found that playing the popular computer game Tetris shortly after a traumatic incident helped wipe out the bad memories and reduce distressing flashbacks.
The psychologists from Oxford University believe the discovery could lead to new treatments for accident victims in hospitals as well as those involved in war zones.
"This is only a first step in showing that this might be a viable approach to preventing post traumatic stress disorder,' said Dr Emily Holmes of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, who led the work.
"This was a pure science experiment about how the mind works from which we can try to understand the bigger picture.
"There is a lot to be done to translate this experimental science result into a potential treatment.
The researchers, who published their findings in the Public Library of Science One journal, showed 40 healthy volunteers that included traumatic images of injury from a variety of sources, including adverts highlighting the dangers of drink driving.
After waiting for 30 minutes, 20 of the volunteers played Tetris for 10 minutes while the other half did nothing. Those who had played the computer game experienced significantly fewer flashbacks over the next week.
Dr Holmes and her team believe that the computer game helps block the brain from storing painful memories as long as it is played immediately after the event.
This she explains is because the brain is split into two: one section is sensory and the other is analytical.
Because there are limits to our abilities to do two things at once - like hold a conversation while doing a maths problem - the computer game is able to "interfere with the way our memories are retained in the brain".
The Oxford team chose Tetris because it involves moving coloured building blocks around and uses a large part of the mind. They are unsure whether other computer games would be as effective.
Dr Holmes said: "Tetrmis may work by competing for the brain's resources for sensory information. We suggest it specifically interferes with the way sensory memories are laid down in the period after trauma and thus reduces the number of flashbacks that are experienced afterwards."
Head for figures
Does brain training actually work?
"We have shown that in healthy volunteers, playing Tetris in this time window can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event."
Source: The Telegraph
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