Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms

Psychol Sci. 2015 Aug;26(8):1201-15. doi: 10.1177/0956797615583071. Epub 2015 Jul 1.


Memory of a traumatic event becomes consolidated within hours. Intrusive memories can then flash back repeatedly into the mind's eye and cause distress. We investigated whether reconsolidation-the process during which memories become malleable when recalled-can be blocked using a cognitive task and whether such an approach can reduce these unbidden intrusions. We predicted that reconsolidation of a reactivated visual memory of experimental trauma could be disrupted by engaging in a visuospatial task that would compete for visual working memory resources. We showed that intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following a memory-reactivation task 24 hr after initial exposure to experimental trauma. Furthermore, both memory reactivation and playing Tetris were required to reduce subsequent intrusions (Experiment 2), consistent with reconsolidation-update mechanisms. A simple, noninvasive cognitive-task procedure administered after emotional memory has already consolidated (i.e., > 24 hours after exposure to experimental trauma) may prevent the recurrence of intrusive memories of those emotional events.

Keywords: computer game; emotion; intrusions; intrusive memory; involuntary memory; mental imagery; open data; open materials; reconsolidation; trauma film.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Video Games*
  • Young Adult