Victims of car accidents can end up replaying disturbing memories in their minds. But these intrusive memories, one aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder, may be preventable. All you have to do, according to a new study, is play Tetris after the accident.
Photo by mikecogh
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been experimenting with this idea for a while, mainly by showing gory film clips to volunteers. They found that playing Tetris after seeing something traumatic seems to reprogram your brain to stop flashbacks. This new study takes that idea closer to practical advice by testing it with actual car accident victims.
The researchers asked accident victims and witnesses to recall their memories of the accident, and then play Tetris on a Nintendo DS XL for 20 minutes. A control group spent 20 minutes writing about how they had spent their time in the emergency room since arriving. The game players had fewer intrusive memories over the following week, the researchers reported yesterday in Molecular Psychiatry.
Tetris may work because it interferes with forming the visual component of flashbacks: You might see the event play in your head, or focus on details like blood dripping. But you don't want to overwrite the memory itself; that could interfere with, for example, being able to talk about the event later with a therapist or with your insurance company.
In a previous study, the same researchers found that a quiz game actually made flashbacks worse than no game at all. They think it's because the game interfered with memory without changing those visual images.
Other visual games like Candy Crush might have the same effect as Tetris, but so far the research is on Tetris specifically. Still, since video games can also help with pain, it might be worth installing one if you're in a situation like this.