To treat depression with games, remind users to play

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Reminders to play depression-fighting video games and “brain-training” apps prompt users to not only play more often, but also spend more time in each session, say researchers.

“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,” the researchers write in a paper published in Computers in Human Behavior.

The messages, and subsequent assigned games, target depression that could be perceived as either internal—caused by a chemical imbalance or hereditary factor—or 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.”

Each of six, three-minute games in the study was an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control among people experiencing depression.

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Portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app for brain training made users feel that they could do something to control their depression. The finding supports other research showing that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes. Users also gave the app’s usability high ratings.

On the other hand, 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. But researchers say this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits.

The study looked at results from 160 student volunteers who said they suffered from mild depression. 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. Whether playing the games actually reduced depression will be part of future studies.

Source: UC Davis