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TransPsy: video games strengthened attention and brought back motivation for people with schizophrenia

July 9, 2024  11:50

German scientists from the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf have found that video games can significantly improve cognitive function and mental health in patients with schizophrenia. The study is published in the scientific journal Translational Psychiatry (TransPsy).

Previous research has shown that certain types of video games have beneficial effects on the brain structure and mental processes of healthy individuals. These benefits are thought to arise from sustained and purposeful interaction with the game, which activates the brain's reward system and increases neural plasticity (improves the brain's ability to rewire itself to form new neural connections).

The new study involved 95 patients with schizophrenia and 82 healthy individuals. The volunteers were divided into three groups. The first played the three-dimensional platformer Super Mario 64, the second played the two-dimensional game New Super Mario Bros, and the third was assigned to read e-books. All activities lasted 30 minutes each day for eight weeks.

Before and after the experiment, the participants underwent cognitive and clinical tests, as well as a brain examination using functional MRI.

After analyzing the data, the team found that the groups that played three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games showed significant improvements in sustained attention compared to the control group.

The improvement was associated with increased functional connectivity in a network involving the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex - brain regions associated with memory and executive function, respectively.

Video game-playing patients also experienced a reduction in negative symptoms such as anhedonia (loss of the ability to enjoy activities that are normally enjoyable) and amotivation (lack of motivation or drive to engage in normal daily activities).

Patients reported an improvement in their overall mental state.

The results of the study suggest that video games may be a valuable complementary therapeutic approach for people with schizophrenia, especially to address cognitive impairment and negative symptoms that are not amenable to current treatments.

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