University of Oxford researcher Emily Holmes asked people to play the block-arranging game while watching a grisly film full of surgery and accidents. “She found that while these volunteers remembered just as many details of the film as those who did not play Tetris, a week later they had fewer flashbacks and were less affected emotionally by what they had seen,” the article says.
This led Holmes to hypothesize that playing the game “hogs the brain’s processing power,” preventing the grisly images in the film from becoming powerful memories. Yong and Fishburn write, “Tetris acts as a mental vaccine that protects against the creation of strong fear memories and removes their emotional burden.”
Several studies have found that multitasking can lead to an inefficient use of brain power, but in this case it had a positive effect and might have potential clinical applications for people dealing with traumatic memories and phobias. This echoes the conclusions of a recent Cerebrum article summarizing work in the area, which argues that video games can have both beneficial and harmful effects but that more research is needed to fully understand these changes.
Although we have been covering the potential influences of various video games on the brain for years, in a bit of a coincidence, Tetris itself is featured in our most recent news article, “Your Brain On . . . line.”
Along with more recent work, the article mentions a 1992 study in which Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine “measured the rate of glucose use in the cerebrum before the volunteers practiced [Tetris] and after four to eight weeks of practice.” As scores rose, glucose use declined, indicating that the brain became more efficient at playing the game over time.
A search for “Tetris and brain” in PubMed returned five additional studies, two from 2009, on topics ranging from amnesia to cortical thickness. The brain-research uses of the game may only be beginning.