Playing to beat the blues: Video games viable treatment for depression

March 27, 2017, UC Davis
Credit: Cristie Guevara/public domain

Video games and "brain training" applications are increasingly touted as an effective treatment for depression. A new UC Davis study carries it a step further, though, finding that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

"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," according to the study.

The paper, authored by Subuhi Khan and Jorge Pena, professors in the Department of Communication at UC Davis, is forthcoming in Computers in Human Behavior.

The messages, and subsequent games assigned, targeted that could be perceived as either internal—caused by a chemical imbalance or hereditary factor; or depression that could come from outside factors - such as a job or relationship situation. The messaging had slight differences in approach, but ended on basic inspirational notes to inspire the participant to play the game. Each message ended with: "Just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort."

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. This supports other research that shows that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes, the authors said. Those users also gave high ratings for the usability of the app.

On the other hand, portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the - again, perhaps giving them a feeling of control over their situation. But researchers said this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits.

The study did not examine whether playing the games actually reduced depression, although that will be looked at in future studies, the authors said.

The study looked at results from 160 student volunteers who said they suffered from . They received class credit for participating. Three-fourths were women, and more than half of the subjects were of Asian heritage, followed by white, Latino, and other ethnicities. The average age was 21.

Explore further: Study finds violent video games provide quick stress relief, but at a price

More information: Subuhi Khan et al, Playing to beat the blues: Linguistic agency and message causality effects on use of mental health games application, Computers in Human Behavior (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.024

Related Stories

Study finds violent video games provide quick stress relief, but at a price

July 9, 2015
A study authored by two University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students indicates that while playing video games can improve mood, violent games may increase aggressive outcomes.

Video game 'exercise' for an hour a day may enhance certain cognitive skills

March 13, 2013
Playing video games for an hour each day can improve subsequent performance on cognitive tasks that use similar mental processes to those involved in the game, according to research published March 13 in the open access journal ...

In teens, strong friendships may mitigate depression associated with excessive video gaming

January 12, 2017
Teenagers who play video games for more than four hours a day suffer from symptoms of depression, but frequent use of social media and instant messaging may mitigate symptoms of game addiction in these teens, new Johns Hopkins ...

Are children who play violent video games at greater risk for depression?

August 18, 2014
While much attention has focused on the link between violent video game playing and aggression among youths, a new study finds significantly increased signs of depression among preteens with high daily exposure to violent ...

Are violent video games associated with more civic behaviors among youth?

August 11, 2016
Whether violent video games influence the behavior of youth has been a debate that has split the academic community for years. Scholars and clinicians remain divided in opinion about whether violent games are harmful. In ...

How long should children play video games?

September 9, 2016
A new study indicates that playing video games for a limited amount of time each week may provide benefits to children, but too much can be detrimental. The findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.

Recommended for you

Why the brain struggles to get off the sofa

September 18, 2018
About 30% of adults and 80% of teenagers today do not meet the minimum levels of daily physical activity for staying healthy, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Previous studies have already demonstrated ...

Do we trust people who speak with an accent?

September 18, 2018
You are in a strange neighbourhood, your cell phone's dead, and you desperately need to find the closest garage. A couple of people on the street chime in, each sending you in opposite directions. One person sounds like a ...

New era in virtual reality therapy for common phobias

September 18, 2018
Dick Tracey didn't have to visit a tall building to get over his fear of heights. He put on a virtual reality headset.

We are predisposed to forgive, new research suggests

September 17, 2018
When assessing the moral character of others, people cling to good impressions but readily adjust their opinions about those who have behaved badly, according to new research.

Being forgotten by acquaintances can affect self-esteem in the same way as being rejected

September 17, 2018
Psychologists at The University of Aberdeen looking into the experience of being forgotten have discovered that memory lapses can damage relationships.

Breakthrough in schizophrenia identifies importance of immune cells

September 14, 2018
Researchers from NeuRA and UNSW have made a major discovery in schizophrenia research that could open doors to new treatments, research and therapies.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

xponen
not rated yet Mar 27, 2017
In commercial/office setting, employer also prescribe play & games for their employees. For example; you can see colourful walls, slides and game-table at Google. Some will do this subtly; by simply allowing employee to 'play' for a fraction of their work time, while others will mandate employee 'play' and will ask for it.
xponen
not rated yet Mar 27, 2017
It should be a fact that; playing is a routine that a person should do to keep his sanity, just like reading(eg: reading news), or working (eg: fulfilling a commitment), or keeping health (eg: exercise and grooming)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.