Play Tetris to stop disturbing images from popping up in your head

• Sep 21 2015

Maybe you’re not the impressionable type.

Even so, you’ve probably seen some things in life that keep popping up in your head no matter what. They could be scary scenes from horror movies, or gruesome war photos on the news.

If you want to stop disturbing images from rearing their ugly head without your consent, a game of Tetris might help!

The research

In a study (James et al, 2015) published in Psychological Science, researchers discovered some incredible mind-altering potential in the block-dropping puzzle we’ve been raving about for 30+ years.

During the research sessions, participants were shown a 12-minute slideshow of distressing images. The next day, they were shown the images again to refresh their memories.

Next, one group of participants spent time playing Tetris, while the other engaged in some other kind of leisurely activity as a control.

Participants were then asked to record how often they had flashbacks of the distressing images during the next week.

The results

Surprisingly, those who had played Tetris after the experiment had significantly fewer flashbacks of the distressing images, even though they could recognize the images when they saw them again.

While the game did not erase the memories, it stopped them from popping up involuntarily.

What happened there?

According to the researchers, Tetris competes for the same resources used in processing traumatic memories.

While this doesn’t erase the memory of the images, it effectively stops them from reappearing involuntarily.

How to use it

First of all, Tetris is just one of many games you could use for this effect. As long as the game involves moving things around in relation to each other, you should get the same results.

Here’s a practical application.

Let’s say you’ve just watched a horror movie and you know it’s going to give you nightmares. As soon as you walk out of the theater, just spend 15 minutes playing Tetris and it should stop the scary images from popping up in your head involuntarily.

The same goes for the disturbing videos that tend to flood the social media. If you find yourself watching something and regretting it, spend some minutes with Tetris or a similar game. You’ll find those images won’t bother you anymore unless you specifically choose to recall them.

Keep in mind that you need to do this within a reasonably short period of viewing the distressing images. If it’s something you’ve watched a long time ago, you’ll have to watch it again (as in the experiment) to reactivate the memory, and then play some Tetris to break it up.


James, E. L., Bonsall, M. B., Hoppitt, L., Tunbridge, E. M., Geddes, J. R., Milton, A. L., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms. Psychological Science.

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