Study finds casual games work as a prescription for anxiety and depression

by Alex Morgen on February 16, 2011

in General Gaming News Bits

Peggle

Playing casual games can be good in reducing clinical depression and anxiety, says a recent study released by East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic. During a year study of 60 subjects with clinical depression, half of the group were prescribed three casual games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures from PopCap Games. The group that played the games, all being non-violent and involving puzzle solving challenges, showed a 57% reduction in depressive symptoms.

“The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression,” stated Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU and the professor who oversaw the study (as well as previous studies involving the same games’ effects on stress levels). “In my opinion the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even a replacement for, standard therapies including medication.”

In addition to the 57% drop in depressive symptoms, a 65% improvement in overall mood and a 20% reduction in anxiety levels were also a result of the casual gameplay. “Equally important, the data supports the hypothesis that video game play provokes physiological and biochemical changes consistent with positive changes in mood and anxiety,” said the ECU study. Engaging in select casual games, which also provide brightly colored graphics and soothing music, is a good way to lift yourself up when feeling down. Read more specific details in the East Carolina University and PopCap Games’ press release below or at www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.

Press release:

Study: Casual Video Games Demonstrate Significant Ability to Reduce Depression and Anxiety; Clinical Importance Highlighted

First-of-Its-Kind Clinical Study by East Carolina University Establishes Efficacy of Bejeweled® and Other Games in Reducing Clinical Depression and Anxiety

GREENVILLE, NC and SEATTLE, WA – February 16, 2011 — East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic today revealed the results of a year-long randomized, controlled clinical study that measured the efficacy of so-called “casual” video games (CVGs) in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety as a co-morbid condition. Nearly 60 subjects, half of whom served as controls, all meeting the criteria of clinical depression, participated in the study, which involved three family-friendly, non-violent puzzle games: Bejeweled 2®, Peggle® and Bookworm® Adventures. (All of the games are made by PopCap Games, underwriter of the study.)

The hypothesis was tested using state-of-the-art technologies including psycho-physiological, biochemical and psychological measurements, and found an average reduction in depression symptoms of 57% in the experimental (“video game”) group. The study, the first such research ever to measure the efficacy of video games in reducing depression and anxiety, also found significant reduction in anxiety, as well as improvements in all aspects of mood, among study subjects who played the casual video games.

“The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression,” stated Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU and the professor who oversaw the study (as well as previous studies involving the same games’ effects on stress levels). “In my opinion the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even a replacement for, standard therapies including medication.”

Russoniello said that the games had both short term (after 30 minutes of game play) and long term (after one month) effects when compared to the control group. “Equally important, the data supports the hypothesis that casual video games contain intrinsic qualities that, when played, provoke physiological and biochemical changes consistent with positive changes in mood and anxiety.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States an estimated 20.9 million American adults (9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 or older) suffers from a mood disorder, and more than two thirds of those (14.8 million U.S. adults) are cases of major depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people aged 15 to 44. Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders, and approximately 40 million American adults (about 18 percent of all U.S. adults) have an anxiety disorder.

Findings

High-level findings of the study are provided below. Additional details, along with findings of previous studies, are available at www.ecu.edu/biofeedback. Results indicate that there was a 57% average decrease in depression symptoms among participants in the experimental group and this was statistically significant when compared to the control group.

The video game group saw significant reductions in depression across the board, with all seven subjects previously classified as suffering from moderate to severe depression moving to the minor or minimal depression categories. At the same time, the number of subjects classified as having minor depression dropped from nine to four.

Further analyses revealed differences in the effects of the games on male test subjects compared to female subjects, as well as differences between younger (less than 25 years) and older (equal to or greater than 25) study participants. Significant changes in overall mood (65% improvement on average) and anxiety level (20% reduction in anxiety on average) were also identified among subjects in the video game group. Even somatic, or overall physical, symptoms, improved in the experimental group, by 36% on average. Additional details on these and other initial findings of the study are available at www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.

Methodology

The study hypothesis, methodology and logistical plan were developed between July 2009 and August 2010, and the clinical state of the study was conducted between August 2010 and November 2010 and included a total of 59 subjects. Twenty-nine participants served as controls surfing the National Institutes of Mental Health’s Web page on depression. The experimental group consisted of 30 participants with 18 choosing to play Bejeweled 2; seven participants choosing to play Peggle and five participants choosing to play Bookworm Adventures (BWA). There were 30 females and 29 males in the study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 74 with average age calculated at 30. Sixty-five percent of the participants were European-Americans; twenty three percent were African Americans, 3.3% Hispanic Americans, 1.6 % Asian Americans and 3.3% other. Sixty-three percent were gamers and 31% were not. Twenty-three percent were on anti-depressant medications and 73 % were not. Additional specifics of the study methodology can be found at www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.

“Compliance was not an issue in this study with all participants meeting minimum playing time requirements and there were no side effects reported in the month long study,” Russoniello noted. “Given that only 25% of people who suffer from depression are receiving treatment, it seems prudent to make these low cost, readily accessible casual games video games available to those who need them. They should be made available at health clinics, community centers, online ‘medical sites’ and given out by therapists as a means of intervention.”

About PopCap

PopCap Games is the leading global developer, publisher and operator of casual video games: fun, easy-to-learn, captivating games that appeal to all ages across PC, mobile, social and other platforms. Based in Seattle, Washington, PopCap was founded in 2000 and has a worldwide staff of more than 400 people in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver, B.C., Dublin, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo. PopCap’s games have been downloaded over 1.5 billion times by consumers worldwide, and its flagship franchise, Bejeweled®, has sold more than 50 million units.

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