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Feb 17, 2007

New Video Games Aim at Improving Mental Health

From Medgadget


Psychologist Mark Baldwin has developed and clinically tested a new commercial software, Mindhabits, that aims to decrease stress and build self-esteem:


MindHabits produces computer software designed to help people reduce their stress levels and boost their self-confidence, using games that automatically retrain the way the mind responds to social stress. This patent pending technology is the result of a decade of research by scientists at McGill University, one of the world's top medical research centers. The software -- based on the emerging science of social intelligence -- helps you practice the mind habit of focusing on positive social feedback, which in turn reduces stress levels and improves self-confidence...

Our starting point is past research showing that insecurity feelings and daily stress arise, in large part, from anxieties about whether one will be liked, accepted, and respected by one's peers and significant others. Sometimes people are aware of these concerns, but often social insecurities of this type influence people's thoughts and feelings "automatically", without a lot of deliberate thought and sometimes even entirely outside of their awareness. All they experience are negative reactions to the self or to social situations.

People with fewer insecurities, on the other hand, seem to have a range of automatic thought processes that make them confident and buffer them from worrying about the possibility of social rejection. Fortunately, our recent research shows that with enough practice, even people prone to stress and low self-esteem can develop these beneficial thought processes that might allow them to gradually become more secure and self-confident. We started with the idea that just as playing the game Tetris over and over for hours can start to shape the way you look at the world (even in your dreams!), playing a specially-designed computer game might also help to improve your thoughts and feelings about yourself.

We drew on research showing that certain people have attentional biases toward socially threatening information, so they automatically focus on any sign of rejection or criticism from others, which in turn perpetuates their sensitivity to rejection and heightened tendency to experience social stress. The attentional training software teaches people to look for the smiling/approving person in a crowd of frowning faces. By doing this repeatedly and as quickly as possible, this trains an automatic response of looking for acceptance and ignoring rejection. In several studies we have shown that after using the software, people become less distracted by rejection, and they become less stressed at work and school.

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