Playing video games could help schizophrenia patients to control verbal hallucinations: Study

A joint study conducted by researchers at the King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and the University of Roehampton has found that playing certain kinds of video games could help schizophrenia patients to control verbal hallucinations. Even though this is a pilot study, experts consider it as a milestone finding in treating schizophrenia.

"Although the study sample size is small and we lacked a control group, these results are promising. We are now planning to conduct a randomised controlled study to test this technique in a larger sample," said Dr Natasza Orlov, lead author of the study, BBC reports.

Verbal hallucinations are a common symptom among people with schizophrenia. According to the new study report published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, playing a video game will tune down these external voices by controlling the part of the brain which triggers verbal hallucinations.

During the study, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Natasza Orlov from King's College London asked 12 schizophrenia patients who experience verbal hallucination to play a video game while in an MRI scanner.

In the virtual world of gaming, participants were asked to use their mental strategies to move a computerised rocket. In this scenario, the rocket represents their own neural activity in the speech sensitive part of the brain. The primary goal of the gamer is to land the rocket safely on the earth. In the course of time, doing this exercise helped the patients to reduce their neural activity.

As they played the game regularly, the patients were quite successful in tuning down the external voices and reducing the power of hallucinations. After mastering the controlling strategies, researchers also asked the patients to implement the same in their homes too.

"The patients know when the voices are about to start - they can feel it, so we want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them, or stop the voices completely," added Orlov.

Schizophrenia is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and as per statistics from WHO, it has affected more than 21 million people worldwide.