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

March 27, 2017
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

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

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.