Video Game Able to Calm People with Schizophrenia in Pilot Study

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Wednesday 14th February 2018

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London have reported that a video game can help people with schizophrenia by training the part of the brain that is linked with auditory hallucinations.

This, the team reported, could be a breakthrough in treating schizophrenia patients who do not respond or respond badly to medication.

The game was a small, simple game controlled using brain activity, and is typically played within an MRI scanner. Patients were not given any explicit instructions and were instead asked to develop their own mental strategies to move the rocket.

The aim is to use gameplay to focus the auditory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for sound and voice sensitivity and the root of a common symptom of schizophrenia, hearing voices.

The small study was made of twelve people with schizophrenia who suffer from verbal hallucinations that were threatening and harmful.

Each received four sessions in the MRI machine to play the game, and by the fourth, every patient found that the voices were less stressful, more internal than external, and easier to cope with, than when the experiment began.

There are of course many caveats to the study, chief among which is the sample size of twelve, which is incredibly small to make any kind of consensus on. Along with this, there was a lack of control group and methodological issues. However, this is natural for a study this small, and shows that there is merit in a wider study, which is in the immediate plans of the research group.

The idea as well is after the session, patients can use the mental training used to land the rocket and apply it to handling the onset of voices in their daily lives.

Schizophrenia is an often confused mental condition, often associated with dissociative identity disorder or a “split personality”. The condition is a psychotic disorder associated with symptom such as hallucinations, delusions and a general disorganisation in thought and speech. As many of the symptoms could be seen as related to other conditions, an appropriate diagnosis needs to take into account a number of symptoms that are experienced on a regular basis.

This is a promising study, despite being limited in scope, which showed ways for people with schizophrenia to cope that could be applied even without the aid of the MRI scanner and the game itself. The potential to give control to patients without the same reliance on antipsychotic medication, especially for those for which anti-psychotics are not beneficial is promising news, and the wider study will be interesting to see just how applicable the training will be in a wider context..