Will Mobile Gaming Reduce Stress & Anxiety?

Mobile GamingResearchers Dennis and O’toole successfully demonstrated the reduction of stress and anxiety in a study of 78 participants who used a mobile gaming app, according to a recent research paper published by the Association for Psychological Science. The paper was titled “Mental Health on the Go: Effects of a Gamified Attention-Bias Modification Mobile Application in Trait-Anxious Adults.” The authors made a strong case for the use of apps in mental health care by summarizing a number of studies to conclude:

Of the approximately 90 million individuals this represents in the United States alone, as many as 50% do not seek or receive treatment. This result is largely due to both practical barriers to treatment (cost and accessibility) and problems with the acceptability of treatment options (high cost, stigma, and large time commitment. With recent advances in the development and refinement of effective, evidence-based treatments,  the discrepancy between mental-health needs and access to services is all the more concerning.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Tracy Dennis suggested that just one single gaming session can reduce acute stress responses when used in attention-bias modification training (ABMT). The study claims anxiety is the most common psychiatric disorder but only about 50 percent of patients seek treatment due to cost, accessibility of treatment and cultural stigma barriers.

The scientific report triggered a flurry of articles in more popular mobile news outlets. A FierceMobile Healthcare review of the study pointed to the need for mobile gaming software in psychiatric treatment because of the widespread consumer use of mobile devices and need to reduce treatment costs.

An MNT review of the journal article gave details of the author’s hope that such apps could be used as “cognitive vaccines” to prevent anxiety and stress. It quoted Dr. Dennis as having implied that it may be possible to develop apps for other mental health conditions,

Our hope is to develop highly accessible and engaging evidence-based mobile intervention strategies that can be used in conjunction with traditional therapy or that can be ‘self- curated’ by the individual as personal tools to promote mental wellness.

The app can be downloaded from the APP Store and more details are available at the website, Personal Zen.  Dr. Dennis also explained:

It’s a beta version and we are planning a major redesign, but our clinical tests support efficacy of the app in this format for stress and anxiety reduction. We have several ongoing studies, but please know that this is not yet a validated clinical treatment for anxiety.
However, early indications suggest that using it around 10 minutes a day several times a week is a good “dosage.” You can also use it right before a stressful event to take stress down a notch.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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