Depressed? Reach For Video Games, Not Antidepressants


Do casual video games reduce depression, stress and anxiety? The East Carolina University's Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic Wednesday released results from a year-long clinical study measuring the reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety as a co-morbid condition.

An estimated 20.9 million American adults -- 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 or older -- suffers from a mood disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States. More than two-thirds of those 14.8 million U.S. adults are cases of major depression.

PopCap Games, which develops and publishes causal video games like "Bejeweled," underwrote the study. Carmen Russoniello, director of the psychophysiology lab and biofeedback clinic at ECU, oversaw the study.

Nearly 60 participants -- half of whom served as "controls" meeting the criteria of clinical depression -- participated in the study. They were asked to play "Bejeweled 2," "Peggle," or "Bookworm Adventures."



Russoniello tested the hypothesis using psycho-physiological, biochemical and psychological measurements and found depression symptoms fell to 57% in the experimental video game group. The study -- which measures the efficacy of video games in reducing depression and anxiety -- also found a significant reduction in anxiety, as well as improvements in mood, among those participating.

PopCap Games approached the university about four years ago based on customer surveys that found about 89% said the games provide stress relief, according to company spokesperson Garth Chouteau. Prior studies examined how games affect stress and mood.

Findings suggest that participants in the study experienced a 57% decline in depression symptoms, on average. Researchers call this "statistically significant" compared with the control group who participated. The video game group experienced "significant reductions in depression," with all seven subjects previously classified as suffering from moderate to severe depression moving to minor or minimal. The number of subjects classified as having minor depression dropped from nine to four.

The study also reveals the differences in the effect of games on males compared with females, as well as differences between participants less than age 25, and older. The study also found a 65% improvement on average of overall mood and anxiety levels.

Overall physical symptoms also improved among the experimental group, by 36% on average. In general, the study notes decreases in tension, 49.6%; anger, 55%; depression, 50%; fatigue, 58%; confusion, 50%; and an increase in vigor, 33%.

The study was developed between July 2009 and August 2010, with the clinical piece conducted between August 2010 and November 2010. Fifty-nine people participated. The experimental group consisted of 30 participants, with 18 choosing to play "Bejeweled 2;" seven participants played "Peggle;" and five participants played "Bookworm Adventures" (BWA).

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