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Gaming Apps Tied to Reducing Anxiety Levels, Study Reports

Update Date: Mar 19, 2014 10:43 AM EDT

For people dealing with anxiety disorders, there might be a new form of therapy that can effectively reduce anxiety levels without medications. According to a new study, researchers discovered that playing a science-based gaming app on a smartphone or tablet device for as little as 25 minutes could help treat anxiety.

"Millions of people suffering from psychological distress fail to seek or receive mental health services," said lead researcher Tracy Dennis of Hunter College in New York, according to Medical News Today. "A key factor here is that many evidence-based treatments are burdensome - time consuming, expensive, difficult to access, and perceived as stigmatizing."

For this study, the researchers tested the effects of using a new type of cognitive treatment for anxiety known as attention-bias modification training (ABMT). ABMT works by diverting the patients' attention away from a scary and threating stimulus that could create anxiety by getting them to focus on a stimulus that is non-threatening. The researchers developed a game that used ABMT and recruited around 75 participants who were screened for anxiety.

Some of the participants played the game, which instructed them to follow two characters around the screen, while others played another game that acted as the control group. In the ABMT game, they were required to trace the characters' steps as quickly and as accurately as possible for either 25 or 45 minutes. After finishing the games, all participants had to deliver a mini speech about the game. The speeches were recorded, which can be a highly stressful situation for people with anxiety.

The researchers discovered that people who played the ABMT game exhibited less nervous behaviors and speech in comparison to the participants from the control group. The ABMT group also reported feeling less negative emotions.

"Even the 'short dosage' of the app - about 25 minutes - had potent effects on anxiety and stress measured in the lab," said Dennis according to The Times of India. "This is good news in terms of the potential to translate these technologies into mobile app format because use of apps tends to be brief and on-the-go."

Dennis, who co-authored the study with Laura O'Toole of The City University of New York, plans on examining the effects of playing this game in an even shorter time period. The researchers hope that the app could be modified and used as a treatment option for people with clinically diagnosed anxiety and stress disorders, as well as other mental health conditions such as depression or addition.

The study was published in Clinical Psychological Science.

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