“It was right about the time they were learning to trust their environment when it was just totally ripped away from them,” Russoniello said of the children.
The researcher in Russoniello saw an opportunity to make something positive of the devastation. He would counsel the students using coping activities such as games, and in the process, learn more about PTSD in children following natural disasters – a first-of-its-kind study.
They found that 73 percent of the children had moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD. He and his ECU students drove the 60-mile round trip twice a week for two years to see it through.
Their stress intervention techniques worked, resulting in a reduction of PTSD symptoms 11 percent faster during the time they delivered services than with no intervention. His study has since been cited in many top-level publications, government reports and epidemiological analyses.
He has also conducted research on the effective stress-reducing use of casual games such as Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants versus Zombies.
“What was then called Pop Games, now known as EA Sports, basically called me and said, ‘We’re making so much money and can’t figure out why,’” Russoniello said with a laugh. “They had tapped into something huge and didn’t know how they did it.”
His groundbreaking studies were featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, BBC and CNN. His research had proven that biofeedback principles woven into casual video games made them therapeutic.