Save Money, Quit Therapy: New Game Offers Relief for Anxiety

Rejoice! Anxiety-sufferers may now be able to seek treatment without ever leaving the house. A recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science examined how mobile technology and gaming can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and stress. 

Anxiety is everywhere—an equal opportunity condition that leaves nobody untouched. Kids have anxiety about standardized tests, teens have anxiety about their social life and appearances, new moms have anxiety about breastfeeding (and then pass that anxiety on to their babies). This is a full-on epidemic, to hear the media tell it, and left unchecked, rampant anxiety can wreck your day (life!) leaving you exhausted, paralyzed and scared. 

In an effort to find a solution to the condition that plagues more than 90 million Americans—that's almost 30% of the population—researchers asked university students who suffer from anxiety to play a simple new game on an iPad. There were two versions of the game: one featuring a happy face and one with an angry face. Both wiggle around while players attempt to trace their paths, but in one version of the game, only the smiling face leaves a trail to be traced while in the other version, the trail appears randomly behind the smiling or angry face.

Sure, the game doesn’t sound very fun or intellectually-stimulating, we get that. But scientists are intrigued by the “gamification” of therapy treatments and believe that a therapeutic approach called “attention-bias modification training” (ABMT) makes mobile and internet gaming an ideal venue for behavior modification treatment. In this game, the “attention-bias” is that the gamer’s attention is drawn to the smiley-guy and away from the sources of stress and anxiety. Scientists are hoping that training anxiety-sufferers to ignore threatening stimuli —like angry faces—by focusing on neutral or positive stimuli—hello, smiley faces—will give them skills to help them manage anxiety in their daily lives.

Let's hear it for another excuse to bury your face in your device.

Image: JD Hancock/




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