Michigan State University researchers have done a study to show that a surprisingly easy but targeted brain game reduces anxiety by helping people to focus. In an article in the journal Behavior Therapy
that was reported in a post called Can a basic shapes game quell anxiety?
on Futurity, research leader Jason Moser says that nervous college students who completed a video game-like exercise that involves identifying shapes stayed more focused and demonstrated less anxiety.
The article explains that anxiety disorders constitute the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, and the primary time for the disorders is between the ages of 18 and 25. The researchers believe that their study is “the first scientific step toward addressing the effects of distraction on anxiety,” which “could eventually lead to an everyday solution.” Moser, associate professor of clinical psychology, says, “Down the line we could roll out an online or mobile game based on this research that specifically targets distraction and helps people stay focused and feel less anxious.”
According to Psychology Today
, anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations, but it sometimes becomes excessive and can cause sufferers to dread everyday situations. Steady, all-over anxiety is called generalized anxiety disorder. Other anxiety-related disorders include panic attacks — severe episodes of anxiety that happen in response to specific triggers — and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is marked by persistent invasive thoughts or compulsions to carry out specific behaviors (such as hand-washing). Anxiety so often co-occurs with depression that the two are thought to be two sides of one disorder. Both strike twice as many females as males. Usually, anxiety arises first, often during childhood. Both biology and environment are believed to contribute to the disorder. While some people may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, this does not make development of anxiety inevitable. Sometimes, early traumatic experiences make the body more prone to react to stress.
Moser’s study asked participants with both low and high anxiety to complete a focus task in which they identified a specific shape in a series of shapes. For instance, they might identify a red circle among red squares, diamonds, and triangles. Then they were asked to do an exercise that was designed to distract them by mixing in different colored shapes. According to Moser, it did not, because the focus task had improved concentration and lessened anxiety especially for the anxious participants, even following the distraction exercise.
While there are many “brain-training” games on the market, they are highly controversial and offer no independent scientific proof they help sharpen focus, let alone reduce anxiety, Moser explains. He concludes, “There have been other studies of video game-type interventions for anxiety, but none have used a specific and simple game that targets distraction.”