Playing Tetris may just be good for you according to science! The game can act like a "cognitive antibiotic" by reducing the harrowing flashbacks haunting people with post traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD can be detrimental. In the example of soldiers witnessing terrible events in combat, they are likely to be disabled or die from accident or illness than those who do not even decades later.
"It's the kind of memory that pops back when you don't want it to," says Emily Holmes, a clinical psychology researcher at the University of Oxford.
Holmes used Tetris on volunteers and they played it for half an hour after looking at graphic images of injuries. The result? They had fewer unwanted memories of the images as a result.
Holmes's latest research suggests that this effect may only occur with visuospatial games, of which Tetris is the classic example.
The beneficial effects of Tetris remain even when played 4 hours after the trauma, says Holmes. This suggests that the game is not just a distraction, but is interfering with the mechanisms that form the intrusive memories, she says.
"It's not wiping out the memory – it's just taking the edge off its intrusiveness," she says. In contrast, the verbal game appears to interfere with our conceptual experience, making it difficult to make sense of the perceptual memories and so exacerbating the flashbacks.