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Study: Casual video games demonstrate ability to reduce depression and anxiety

Table 1: Changes in Clinical Depression Between Control and Video Game Groups
GREENVILLE, N.C. and SEATTLE   (Feb. 16, 2011)   —   A new study conducted at East Carolina University shows casual video games help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with clinical depression.

ECU’s Psychopsysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic released the findings of the one-year, randomized, controlled clinical study today.

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 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,” said Dr. Carmen Russoniello, director of the ECU Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic, who oversaw the study along with 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,” he said.

Researchers used state-of-the-art technologies including psychophysiology, biochemical and psychological measurements. The experimental group experienced an average reduction in depression symptoms of 57 percent.  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.

Russoniello said research indicated games had both short term (after 30 minutes of game play) and long term (after one month) effects when compared to the control group. He said the results offer convincing evidence casual video games should be widely available to those who suffer depression.

“Given that only 25 percent 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,” he said. “They should be made available at health clinics, community centers, online 'medical sites' and given out by therapists as a means of intervention.”

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 20.9 million American adults, or 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 or older, suffer from a mood disorder. More than two-thirds of those — 14.8 million U.S. adults — suffer major depression, according to NIMH. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people aged 15 to 44. Depressive disorders often occur along 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.edu.ecu/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. Table 1 presents clinical results for PHQ-9 pre- and post-study for both the video game and control groups.

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.

Graph 1 illustrates the decrease in depression symptoms in the casual video game group and shows how all participants in this group shifted into the mild symptom category.

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.edu.ecu/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 chose to play Peggle and five participants chose 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.edu.ecu/biofeedback.

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, 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.

Graph 1 illustrates the decrease in depression symptoms in the casual video game group and shows how all participants in this group shifted into the mild symptom category.
Graph 1 illustrates the decrease in depression symptoms in the casual video game group and shows how all participants in this group shifted into the mild symptom category.

 


Contact: Jeannine Hutson | 252-328-1164