Researchers at the University of California Davis are using video games and brain training applications to treat depression.
The study found that not only can video games potentially treat depression, but when participants are reminded to play games, they are more likely to play more often and increase time playing, which may help patients gain further benefit from the treatment, though the researchers did not measure that.
"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," researchers said in a press release.
The study used six, three-minute specifically designed video games played by 160 student participants with an average age of 21. The study showed in most cases playing a game helped participants feel they had some control over their depression. The games were an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks shown to improve cognitive control in people with depression.
The messages used to remind participants to play the video games targeted depression as either internal from a chemical imbalance or hereditary, or external from environmental and lifestyle factors. The reminder messages had differences in approach but all concluded with inspirational notes to encourage participants to play the game.
When depression was portrayed as being caused internally, participants reported feeling they could do something to control their depression, which supports research showing brain-training games can induce cognitive changes.
When depression was portrayed as coming from an external cause led users to spend more time playing video games, however researchers said this was due to immediate engagement and did not have long-term results.
Some previous studies have suggested video game-based treatment methods can have an effect in depression treatment, including increasing happiness and decreasing depression among seniors, the researchers in the new study stressed they did not measure whether video game play reduced their participants' symptoms.
The study was published in Computers in Human Behavior.