Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. Flashbacks are the symptomatic “calling card” of PTSD, and treatments often focus on the disorder after the flashbacks are firmly established. Unfortunately, early interventions are rare.
In a recent study published in PlusOne.org examines a possible “cognitive vaccine” to prevent PTSD flashbacks after a traumatic event. The authors from the University of Oxford base their theory on two findings: “(1) Cognitive science suggests that the brain has selective resources with limited capacity [and] (2) the neurobiology of memory suggests a 6-hr window to disrupt memory consolidation.”
The utility of such a “cognitive vaccine” is as follows: “Trauma flashbacks are sensory-perceptual, visuospatial mental images. Visuospatial cognitive tasks selectively compete for resources required to generate mental images. Thus, a visuospatial computer game (e.g. “Tetris”) will interfere with flashbacks. Visuospatial tasks post-trauma, performed within the time window for memory consolidation, will reduce subsequent flashbacks. We predicted that playing “Tetris” half an hour after viewing trauma would reduce flashback frequency over 1-week.”
Participants in the study viewed scenes from a traumatic film (with real injury and/or death), and then they had a break. During this break, certain subjects engaged in certain “visuospatial” conditions during this break (like playing Tetris), and others did not. Those participants with a Tetris-break had a significant reduction in the incidence of flashbacks.
The authors conclude: “Playing ‘Tetris’ after viewing traumatic material reduces unwanted, involuntary memory flashbacks to that traumatic film, leaving deliberate memory recall of the event intact.” [audio:http://hospitalstay.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/11-Pigs-In-Zen.mp3|titles=Pigs In Zen]
The article and study can be found HERE.