Getting into a ‘flow’ state while playing Tetris can help to combat anxiety
Playing on Tetris can lead to a calm state of ‘flow’. We bet the same can’t be said of Red Dead Redemption.
Feeling a little worried about an upcoming test, first date or job interview? Why not have a game of Tetris? Researchers at the University of California have found that playing Tetris – a computer game in which blocks are flipped around and stacked to make complete rows – until a ‘flow’ state is reached can help alleviate negative feelings during periods of anxious waiting.
‘Flow’ is the term that psychologists use to describe a state of mind where you’re so engaged that the rest of the world falls away, and time passes more quickly. It can be achieved by concentrating on a single simple activity. If the activity isn’t challenging enough, you get bored. If it’s too difficult, you get frustrated. “Flow requires a delicate balance,” said Prof Kate Sweeny, who led the research. “It is most readily achieved with activities that challenge the person somewhat, but not too much; have clear, achievable goals; and that provide the person with feedback about how they’re doing along the way.”
Sweeny had 290 undergraduates fill in a form asking them about their personalities. She then took photos of each of them, telling them that they would be rated on their physical attractiveness. While they were ostensibly being rated, the students were asked to play Tetris for 10 minutes. After the game, they completed a survey measuring their sensations of flow, worry and emotion. The participants who said they had achieved flow experienced less negative emotion than other members of the group.
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.