Occurrence of intrusive memories may be reduced by a “simple cognitive blockade” from playing the game Tetris researchers reported in a recent study. Findings from the study are published in Psychological Science.

Intrusive memories are noted as the hallmark symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Currently recommended treatments for PTSD are indicated at least one month after the traumatic event but not much is known on preventative treatments that can be administered earlier.

Prior research has shown that people who played the computer game Tetris within 4 hours of viewing a film containing traumatic events had fewer intrusive memories over the following week. Study authors from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in the United Kingdom sought to determine whether a similar cognitive procedure could change older, already established memories a day later. They hypothesized that by playing an engaging visuospatial game such as Tetris after memory reactivation could create a ‘cognitive blockade’ to interfere with the reconsolidation of visual intrusive memories—ultimately reducing the frequency of intrusive memories over time.

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Study participants viewed films that contained traumatic scenes (eg, dangers of drunk driving) to experimentally induce intrusive memories. Patients then returned to the lab 24 hours later. For the first experiment, half of the participants had memory reactivation by viewing selected footage, followed by a 10-minute filler task, then 12 minutes of playing Tetris. The other participants completed only the filler task and sat in silence for 12 minutes.

Results showed that participants who played Tetris after memory reactivation experienced significantly fewer intrusive memories in a diary over the next week vs. participants who sat quietly in the lab. Another experiment with four groups showed the same findings from the first experiment.

The study authors concluded that neither memory reactivation nor Tetris was sufficient on its own to produce these effects but only participants who experienced both components had fewer intrusive memories over time. Patients may benefit from bringing back traumatic memories under certain conditions that render them less intrusive.

For more information visit PsychologicalScience.org.