Video games may be viable treatment for depression

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The study found in most cases that playing the specifically designed game helped subjects feel they had some control over their depression.

Playing a specifically designed video game may help people cope with depression, especially if they receive text reminders to play, scientists including one of Indian origin have found.

Researchers from University of California in the US looked at results from about 160 student volunteers who said they suffered from mild depression with an average age of 21. Three-fourths were women, and more than half of the
subjects were of Asian heritage, followed by white, Latino, and other ethnicities.

Using six, three-minute games, the study found in most cases that playing the specifically designed game helped subjects feel they had some control over their depression. Each game was an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control among people experiencing depression.

Portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app for brain training made participants feel that they could do something to control their depression, researchers said. This supports other research that shows that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes.

Those users also gave high ratings for the usability of the app. Researchers, including Subuhi Khan, found that portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the game – again, perhaps giving them a feeling of control over their situation.

However this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits, researchers said. “Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts, mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” researchers said. The study appears in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.

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