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How Video Games Can Teach Your Brain to Fight Depression

Published on : November 09, 2015
How Video Games Can Teach Your Brain to Fight Depression

 What’s the opposite of play?

 
Your first instinct is probably to say: “work.” But there’s another, better answer to the same question that could be the key to developing powerful new treatments in the field of mental health.
 
The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.
 
This idea was first offered up by Brian Sutton-Smith, a noted psychologist of play whodied earlier this year. Sutton-Smith became well known in the 1950s and ’60s for studying children and adults at play. He observed that most people tend to experience stronger self-confidence, increased physical energy, and powerful positive emotions, like curiosity and excitement, during play. This is a perfect contrast to depression. People who are clinically depressed lack the physical energy to engage with ordinary everyday tasks. They’re overwhelmingly pessimistic, particularly about their own capabilities. And they experience a distinct absence of positive emotion.
 
Sutton-Smith did most of his research long before the technological advances that allow scientists today to scan brains for evidence of blood flow patterns related to mental illness and well-being. And he worked long before the explosion of video gaming—according to a meta-analysis I performed, more than 1.23 billion people play globally, including 155 million people in the United States. But thanks to a rapidly growing body of scientific research, we now know that his intuition that “the opposite of play is depression” is a perfectly apt description at a neurological level of what’s going on with these 1.23 billion video gamers. read more
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