ECU study shows casual video games relieve stress

GREENVILLE, NC  (Apr. 28, 2008)  —  East Carolina University’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies today revealed the results of a six-month long, randomized, controlled study that measured the stress-relieving and other mood-lifting effects of so-called “casual” video games.

The three puzzle and word games used in the study, Bejeweled® 2, Peggle™ and Bookworm™ Adventures, are all made by PopCap Games, the leading developer and publisher of casual video games. PopCap underwrote the study and provided copies of the games for research purposes.

The hypotheses were tested using state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies to measure heart-rate variability, electroencephalography and subjects’ mood states pre- and post-activity. The study yielded significant findings in several areas while identifying potential therapeutic applications of casual games as a means of addressing serious mental and physical disorders. Due to the significance of the findings and their implications in health promotion, disease prevention and treatment, ECU’s Psychophysiology Lab and is planning to start clinical trials in the fall to determine the efficacy of these games and their prescriptive parameters.

In all cases, the changes in stress levels and mood were measured in comparison to a control group that experienced a Web-based activity similar in physical and mental nature to the game-playing groups. Full results of the study will be presented at the Games for Health Conference in Baltimore, Maryland on May 8 by the director of the study, Dr. Carmen Russoniello, associate professor of recreational therapy and director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU’s College of Health and Human Performance. The study results will also be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year. High-level findings of the study are provided below. Additional data, including detailed charts, can be found at http://www.edu.ecu/biofeedback.

“I’ve conducted many clinical studies in the area of recreational therapy in the past, but this was the first one seeking to determine the potential therapeutic value of video games,” Russoniello said. “The results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of the effects of the games on subjects’ stress levels and overall mood. When coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Granted, this study was a first step and much more needs to be done before video games can be prescribed to treat medical conditions. However, these exciting results confirm anecdotal evidence that people are playing casual video games to improve their mood and decrease their stress, and herald casual games’ potential in health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment of stress- and mood-related disorders.”

Stress Relief
With respect to stress relief, measured primarily through HRV which captures sympathetic (fight or flight) and para-sympathetic (relaxation) nervous system activity by assessing the variability in the heart’s “beat-to-beat” interval, Bejeweled was found to reduce physical stress activity by 54 percent compared to the control group. There was no statistical difference between male and female subjects. Peggle and Bookworm Adventures did not reduce subjects’ physical stress levels significantly but did affect psychological tension, depression and other aspects of mood, in some cases dramatically (see below).

Changes in Aspects of Mood
Mood was measured in six different categories: Psychological Tension, Anger, Depression


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