The background for the present project is the recent finding that performing a visuospatial task after the experience of trauma, or after the reactivation of a traumatic memory, can significantly reduce the number of intrusive memories a person experiences in the following week (Holmes, James, Coode-Bate, & Deeprose, 2009; James et al. 2015; Iyadurai.2017).
A key symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is recurring, involuntary, and intrusive memories of the traumatic event. Clinical models of PTSD suggest that it is the sensory-perceptual rather than verbal/conceptual processing of a traumatic event that is associated with pathology. Given that trauma flashbacks occur in the sensory-perceptual domain, mainly in the form of visuospatial images, the performance of a visuospatial task (like playing Tetris) during consolidation or reconsolidation of a traumatic memory may reduce the number of subsequent flashbacks, through competition for visuospatial working memory-resources. Indeed, this is exactly what has been shown in two studies conducted by Holmes et al. (2009) and James et al. (2015). In the Holmes et al. (2009) study, 30 minutes after viewing a series of short film clips containing disturbing images, one half of participants played a video game requiring rapid mental visuospatial manipulation of three-dimensional blocks (Tetris), and all participants subsequently recorded the number of intrusive trauma-related images they experienced in an intrusion diary over the following week. Participants in the Tetris-condition reported significantly fewer intrusive images than participants in the control condition.
In short, Tetris, as a brief self-help app-based intervention has the potential to play an important part in the future of mental health care for all traumatized individuals by circumventing known help-seeking barriers, reducing social inequalities in mental health and quality of life. In doing so, the project will begin to untangle one of the great societal challenges of our time.
The project group aims to publish findings in high-ranking, international, peer-reviewed journals. The researchers in the project will also deliver papers at conferences and study participants and stakeholder will receive a final report describing key findings. Findings will also be incorporated in the aforementioned projects at NKVTS and future grant proposals to ERC and NFR.
Experimental setup in NKVTS’ lab.
The first series of experiments was conducted in 2016/17 at the Department of Psychology with Professor Tim Brennen as principal investigator.