Study: Casual Video Games Demonstrate Ability to Relieve Stress, Improve Mood: Potential Clinical Significance Highlighted

First-of-Its-Kind 6-month Research Project Establishes Effects of Puzzle

and Word Games on the Human Body and Mind



Apr 28, 2008, 01:00 ET from East Carolina University

    GREENVILLE, N.C. and SEATTLE, April 28 /PRNewswire/ -- East Carolina
 University's Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies today revealed
 the results of a six-month long, randomized, controlled study that measured
 the stress-relieving and other mood-lifting effects of so-called "casual"
 video games. The three puzzle and word games used in the study,
 Bejeweled(R) 2, Peggle(TM) and Bookworm(TM) Adventures, are all made by
 PopCap Games, the leading developer and publisher of casual video games.
 (PopCap underwrote the study and provided copies of the games for research
 purposes.) The hypotheses were tested using state-of-the-art technologies
 and methodologies to measure heart-rate variability (HRV),
 electroencephalography (EEG) and subjects' mood states pre- and
 post-activity (POMS). The study yielded significant findings in several
 areas while identifying potential therapeutic applications of casual games
 as a means of addressing serious mental and physical disorders. Due to the
 significance of the findings and their implications in health promotion,
 disease prevention and treatment, East Carolina University's
 Psychophysiology Lab is planning to start clinical trials in the fall to
 determine the efficacy of these games and their prescriptive parameters.
 
     In all cases, the changes in stress levels and mood were measured in
 comparison to a control group that experienced a Web-based activity similar
 in physical and mental nature to the game-playing groups. Full results of
 the study will be presented at the Games for Health Conference in
 Baltimore, Maryland on May 8, 2008 by the director of the study, Dr. Carmen
 Russoniello, associate professor of recreational therapy and director of
 the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU's College of Health
 and Human Performance. The study results will also be published in a
 peer-reviewed journal later this year. High-level findings of the study are
 provided below. Additional data, including detailed charts, can be found at
 http://www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.
 
     "I've conducted many clinical studies in the area of recreational
 therapy in the past, but this was the first one seeking to determine the
 potential therapeutic value of video games," stated Dr. Russoniello. "The
 results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of
 the effects of the games on subjects' stress levels and overall mood. When
 coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results
 based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide
 range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders
 such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and
 cardiovascular disease. Granted, this study was a first step and much more
 needs to be done before video games can be prescribed to treat medical
 conditions. However, these exciting results confirm anecdotal evidence that
 people are playing casual video games to improve their mood and decrease
 their stress, and herald casual games' potential in health promotion,
 disease prevention, and treatment of stress- and mood-related disorders."
 
     Stress Relief
 
     With respect to stress relief, measured primarily through HRV which
 captures sympathetic (fight or flight) and para-sympathetic (relaxation)
 nervous system activity by assessing the variability in the heart's
 "beat-to-beat" interval, Bejeweled was found to reduce physical stress
 activity by 54% compared to the control group. There was no statistical
 difference between male and female subjects. Peggle and Bookworm Adventures
 did not reduce subjects' physical stress levels significantly but did
 affect psychological tension, depression and other aspects of mood, in some
 cases dramatically (see below).
 
     Changes in Aspects of Mood
 
     Mood was measured in six different categories: Psychological Tension,
 Anger, Depression, Vigor, Fatigue and Confusion. Cumulatively, these six
 aspects of mood are called "total mood disturbance," with a decrease in
 total mood disturbance being a positive change in mood. In terms of total
 mood disturbance, Peggle had the greatest effect, improving mood by 573%
 across all study subjects compared to the control group (which saw a modest
 improvement in mood). Bejeweled 2 (435%) and Bookworm Adventures (303%)
 also had significant positive effects on subjects' overall mood.
 Interestingly, among those subjects who played Bejeweled 2, male subjects
 showed a 10% greater increase in total mood than female subjects, while
 females who played Peggle experienced a 40% greater improvement in mood
 than males who played that game. "It's not surprising that Peggle had the
 greatest effect on overall mood, given the game's over-the-top celebration
 of players' success each time they complete a level," noted Dr.
 Russoniello. "The other games also provide positive feedback to players,
 but not to the same extent or in the same 'exhilarating' fashion."
 
     Data from electroencephalography (EEG) supports the study's hypotheses
 and confirms the participant's psychological assessment (POMS). All three
 PopCap(R) games increased mood but in different ways. Peggle significantly
 increased positive approach/engage brain activity, especially in females --
 who accounted for 97% of the positive change. Bejeweled 2 significantly
 decreased brain activity associated with avoid/withdrawal activity. Males
 had a significant (191%) decrease when compared to females and
 significantly differed from the control group. Bookworm Adventures had the
 greatest impact on left brain -- right brain synchrony (421% increase).
 Males had a 214% greater increase in mood after playing Bejeweled and a 78%
 increase in mood after playing Bookworm Adventures, compared to females.
 Age was an important factor as well. Those subjects under the age of 25 had
 a 156% increase in left brain alpha, indicating a substantial decrease in
 avoid/withdrawal brain activity when compared to those subjects age 25 and
 older. In addition subjects under 25 had a significant increase in right
 brain activity (318%) indicating that they also had an increase in
 approach/engage brain activity. On the other hand, those subjects age 25
 and older experienced an 891% increase in right/left brain synchrony
 indicating a greater mental relaxation state. (Additional break-outs of the
 study data by gender and age are available online.)
 
     Psychological Tension
 
     Peggle had the greatest effect on psychological tension, with study
 subjects who played that game averaging a 66% reduction compared to 36%
 reduction among those who played Bejeweled 2 and 24% reduction among
 players of Bookworm Adventures. Specifically with respect to Peggle, female
 subjects accounted for two thirds of the overall reduction in tension after
 playing that game.
 
     Anger
 
     Bejeweled 2 and Peggle had similarly positive effects on subjects'
 anger levels, reducing anger by 65% and 63%, respectively. Bookworm
 Adventures had a more modest effect, reducing anger by 33%. Among female
 subjects, Peggle produced the greatest anger reduction, 86%. Men
 experienced the greatest reduction of anger while playing Bejeweled 2
 (63%). "Peggle may have reduced anger more effectively in women due to its
 light-hearted characters and somewhat cartoony presentation featuring
 unicorns and rainbows," Dr. Russoniello conjectured. "For men, it's likely
 the nature of this game -- Bejeweled 2 encourages focus, introspection and
 calmness -- which facilitated a release of anger-oriented feelings like
 certain other therapeutic activities such as art."
 
     Depression
 
     All three games had similar effects on depression, reducing subjects'
 depressions levels by 45% (Peggle), 43% (Bookworm Adventures) and 37%
 (Bejeweled 2). Among men, however, Bookworm Adventures had the greatest
 depression-reducing effect, with male subjects accounting for 98% of
 depression reduction, on average, when playing that game. "All three games,
 but particularly Peggle, should be used in more focused trials with a group
 of clinically depressed subjects, to gauge the effects," suggested Dr.
 Russoniello. "If these games can reduce depression this significantly among
 a population of people who are not diagnosed with depression, the potential
 for positively affecting the mental state of someone who is in fact
 depressed is very significant."
 
     Vigor
 
     Vigor is the only positive variable reflected in the POMS and
 represents a state of increased mental energy. Bejeweled 2 increased vigor
 by an average of 210% among subjects who played that game. Bookworm (10%)
 and Peggle (24%) had modest affects on subjects' vigor levels. Among
 players of Bejeweled 2, females accounted for 59% of the overall increase
 in vigor.
 
     Fatigue
 
     Peggle had the most significant impact on fatigue, reducing it by an
 average of 61% among subjects who played that game. Bejeweled 2 (49%) and
 Bookworm Adventures (33%) also reduced fatigue. Peggle was nearly equally
 effective at reducing fatigue among male (52%) and female (48%) subjects.
 
     Confusion
 
     Compared to the control group surfing the Web for articles (which
 collectively experienced a modest decrease in confusion), all three games
 reduced confusion dramatically, suggesting that the rules, objectives and
 input controls for the game were very clearly understood by the subjects.
 Subjects playing Peggle saw confusion drop by an average of 486%, while
 those playing Bookworm Adventures (462%) and Bejeweled 2 (426%) also
 experienced sizable reductions in confusion. "These findings are especially
 intriguing as they present the possibility that casual games may be useful
 in ameliorating conditions such as attention deficit disorder, memory loss
 and general confusion attributed to dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said
 Dr. Russoniello.
 
     Study Methodology
 
     The study was conducted between October 2007 and April 2008 and
 included a total of 134 subjects. Thirty-one subjects served as members of
 the control group, tasked with surfing the Internet looking for journal
 articles. The experimental groups consisted of 31 subjects who played
 Bejeweled 2, 29 subjects who played Bookworm Adventures, and 36 subjects
 who played Peggle. The study included the collection of physical data
 (based on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements) and psychological data
 (based on POMS (a profile of mood states pre- and post-activity) and
 electroencephalography (EEG) measurements) during a 5-minute baseline
 period and 15 minutes of game playing or (in the case of the control group)
 Internet surfing.
 
     About PopCap
 
     PopCap Games (http://www.popcap.com) is the leading multi-platform
 provider of "casual games" -- fun, easy-to-learn, captivating computer
 games that appeal to everyone from age 6 to 106. Based in Seattle,
 Washington, PopCap was founded in 2000 and has a worldwide staff of over
 180 people in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver, B.C. and Dublin.
 Its games have been downloaded more than 1 billion times by consumers
 worldwide, and its flagship title, Bejeweled(R), has sold more than 10
 million units across all platforms. Constantly acclaimed by consumers and
 critics, PopCap's games are played on the Web, desktop computers, myriad
 mobile devices (cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, Pocket PCs, iPod and more),
 popular game consoles (such as Xbox), and in-flight entertainment systems.
 PopCap is the only casual games developer with leading market share across
 all major sales channels, including Web portals, retail stores, mobile
 phones and MP3 players, and game device manufacturers.
 
     The PopCap logo and all other trademarks used herein that are listed at
 http://www.popcap.com/trademarks are owned by PopCap Games, Inc. or its
 licensors and may be registered in some countries. Other company and
 product names used herein may be trademarks of their respective owners and
 are used for the benefit of those owners.
 
 
 

SOURCE East Carolina University
    GREENVILLE, N.C. and SEATTLE, April 28 /PRNewswire/ -- East Carolina
 University's Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies today revealed
 the results of a six-month long, randomized, controlled study that measured
 the stress-relieving and other mood-lifting effects of so-called "casual"
 video games. The three puzzle and word games used in the study,
 Bejeweled(R) 2, Peggle(TM) and Bookworm(TM) Adventures, are all made by
 PopCap Games, the leading developer and publisher of casual video games.
 (PopCap underwrote the study and provided copies of the games for research
 purposes.) The hypotheses were tested using state-of-the-art technologies
 and methodologies to measure heart-rate variability (HRV),
 electroencephalography (EEG) and subjects' mood states pre- and
 post-activity (POMS). The study yielded significant findings in several
 areas while identifying potential therapeutic applications of casual games
 as a means of addressing serious mental and physical disorders. Due to the
 significance of the findings and their implications in health promotion,
 disease prevention and treatment, East Carolina University's
 Psychophysiology Lab is planning to start clinical trials in the fall to
 determine the efficacy of these games and their prescriptive parameters.
 
     In all cases, the changes in stress levels and mood were measured in
 comparison to a control group that experienced a Web-based activity similar
 in physical and mental nature to the game-playing groups. Full results of
 the study will be presented at the Games for Health Conference in
 Baltimore, Maryland on May 8, 2008 by the director of the study, Dr. Carmen
 Russoniello, associate professor of recreational therapy and director of
 the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU's College of Health
 and Human Performance. The study results will also be published in a
 peer-reviewed journal later this year. High-level findings of the study are
 provided below. Additional data, including detailed charts, can be found at
 http://www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.
 
     "I've conducted many clinical studies in the area of recreational
 therapy in the past, but this was the first one seeking to determine the
 potential therapeutic value of video games," stated Dr. Russoniello. "The
 results of this study are impressive and intriguing, given the extent of
 the effects of the games on subjects' stress levels and overall mood. When
 coupled with the very high degree of confidence we have in those results
 based on the methodology and technologies used, I believe there is a wide
 range of therapeutic applications of casual games in mood-related disorders
 such as depression and in stress-related disorders including diabetes and
 cardiovascular disease. Granted, this study was a first step and much more
 needs to be done before video games can be prescribed to treat medical
 conditions. However, these exciting results confirm anecdotal evidence that
 people are playing casual video games to improve their mood and decrease
 their stress, and herald casual games' potential in health promotion,
 disease prevention, and treatment of stress- and mood-related disorders."
 
     Stress Relief
 
     With respect to stress relief, measured primarily through HRV which
 captures sympathetic (fight or flight) and para-sympathetic (relaxation)
 nervous system activity by assessing the variability in the heart's
 "beat-to-beat" interval, Bejeweled was found to reduce physical stress
 activity by 54% compared to the control group. There was no statistical
 difference between male and female subjects. Peggle and Bookworm Adventures
 did not reduce subjects' physical stress levels significantly but did
 affect psychological tension, depression and other aspects of mood, in some
 cases dramatically (see below).
 
     Changes in Aspects of Mood
 
     Mood was measured in six different categories: Psychological Tension,
 Anger, Depression, Vigor, Fatigue and Confusion. Cumulatively, these six
 aspects of mood are called "total mood disturbance," with a decrease in
 total mood disturbance being a positive change in mood. In terms of total
 mood disturbance, Peggle had the greatest effect, improving mood by 573%
 across all study subjects compared to the control group (which saw a modest
 improvement in mood). Bejeweled 2 (435%) and Bookworm Adventures (303%)
 also had significant positive effects on subjects' overall mood.
 Interestingly, among those subjects who played Bejeweled 2, male subjects
 showed a 10% greater increase in total mood than female subjects, while
 females who played Peggle experienced a 40% greater improvement in mood
 than males who played that game. "It's not surprising that Peggle had the
 greatest effect on overall mood, given the game's over-the-top celebration
 of players' success each time they complete a level," noted Dr.
 Russoniello. "The other games also provide positive feedback to players,
 but not to the same extent or in the same 'exhilarating' fashion."
 
     Data from electroencephalography (EEG) supports the study's hypotheses
 and confirms the participant's psychological assessment (POMS). All three
 PopCap(R) games increased mood but in different ways. Peggle significantly
 increased positive approach/engage brain activity, especially in females --
 who accounted for 97% of the positive change. Bejeweled 2 significantly
 decreased brain activity associated with avoid/withdrawal activity. Males
 had a significant (191%) decrease when compared to females and
 significantly differed from the control group. Bookworm Adventures had the
 greatest impact on left brain -- right brain synchrony (421% increase).
 Males had a 214% greater increase in mood after playing Bejeweled and a 78%
 increase in mood after playing Bookworm Adventures, compared to females.
 Age was an important factor as well. Those subjects under the age of 25 had
 a 156% increase in left brain alpha, indicating a substantial decrease in
 avoid/withdrawal brain activity when compared to those subjects age 25 and
 older. In addition subjects under 25 had a significant increase in right
 brain activity (318%) indicating that they also had an increase in
 approach/engage brain activity. On the other hand, those subjects age 25
 and older experienced an 891% increase in right/left brain synchrony
 indicating a greater mental relaxation state. (Additional break-outs of the
 study data by gender and age are available online.)
 
     Psychological Tension
 
     Peggle had the greatest effect on psychological tension, with study
 subjects who played that game averaging a 66% reduction compared to 36%
 reduction among those who played Bejeweled 2 and 24% reduction among
 players of Bookworm Adventures. Specifically with respect to Peggle, female
 subjects accounted for two thirds of the overall reduction in tension after
 playing that game.
 
     Anger
 
     Bejeweled 2 and Peggle had similarly positive effects on subjects'
 anger levels, reducing anger by 65% and 63%, respectively. Bookworm
 Adventures had a more modest effect, reducing anger by 33%. Among female
 subjects, Peggle produced the greatest anger reduction, 86%. Men
 experienced the greatest reduction of anger while playing Bejeweled 2
 (63%). "Peggle may have reduced anger more effectively in women due to its
 light-hearted characters and somewhat cartoony presentation featuring
 unicorns and rainbows," Dr. Russoniello conjectured. "For men, it's likely
 the nature of this game -- Bejeweled 2 encourages focus, introspection and
 calmness -- which facilitated a release of anger-oriented feelings like
 certain other therapeutic activities such as art."
 
     Depression
 
     All three games had similar effects on depression, reducing subjects'
 depressions levels by 45% (Peggle), 43% (Bookworm Adventures) and 37%
 (Bejeweled 2). Among men, however, Bookworm Adventures had the greatest
 depression-reducing effect, with male subjects accounting for 98% of
 depression reduction, on average, when playing that game. "All three games,
 but particularly Peggle, should be used in more focused trials with a group
 of clinically depressed subjects, to gauge the effects," suggested Dr.
 Russoniello. "If these games can reduce depression this significantly among
 a population of people who are not diagnosed with depression, the potential
 for positively affecting the mental state of someone who is in fact
 depressed is very significant."
 
     Vigor
 
     Vigor is the only positive variable reflected in the POMS and
 represents a state of increased mental energy. Bejeweled 2 increased vigor
 by an average of 210% among subjects who played that game. Bookworm (10%)
 and Peggle (24%) had modest affects on subjects' vigor levels. Among
 players of Bejeweled 2, females accounted for 59% of the overall increase
 in vigor.
 
     Fatigue
 
     Peggle had the most significant impact on fatigue, reducing it by an
 average of 61% among subjects who played that game. Bejeweled 2 (49%) and
 Bookworm Adventures (33%) also reduced fatigue. Peggle was nearly equally
 effective at reducing fatigue among male (52%) and female (48%) subjects.
 
     Confusion
 
     Compared to the control group surfing the Web for articles (which
 collectively experienced a modest decrease in confusion), all three games
 reduced confusion dramatically, suggesting that the rules, objectives and
 input controls for the game were very clearly understood by the subjects.
 Subjects playing Peggle saw confusion drop by an average of 486%, while
 those playing Bookworm Adventures (462%) and Bejeweled 2 (426%) also
 experienced sizable reductions in confusion. "These findings are especially
 intriguing as they present the possibility that casual games may be useful
 in ameliorating conditions such as attention deficit disorder, memory loss
 and general confusion attributed to dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said
 Dr. Russoniello.
 
     Study Methodology
 
     The study was conducted between October 2007 and April 2008 and
 included a total of 134 subjects. Thirty-one subjects served as members of
 the control group, tasked with surfing the Internet looking for journal
 articles. The experimental groups consisted of 31 subjects who played
 Bejeweled 2, 29 subjects who played Bookworm Adventures, and 36 subjects
 who played Peggle. The study included the collection of physical data
 (based on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements) and psychological data
 (based on POMS (a profile of mood states pre- and post-activity) and
 electroencephalography (EEG) measurements) during a 5-minute baseline
 period and 15 minutes of game playing or (in the case of the control group)
 Internet surfing.
 
     About PopCap
 
     PopCap Games (http://www.popcap.com) is the leading multi-platform
 provider of "casual games" -- fun, easy-to-learn, captivating computer
 games that appeal to everyone from age 6 to 106. Based in Seattle,
 Washington, PopCap was founded in 2000 and has a worldwide staff of over
 180 people in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver, B.C. and Dublin.
 Its games have been downloaded more than 1 billion times by consumers
 worldwide, and its flagship title, Bejeweled(R), has sold more than 10
 million units across all platforms. Constantly acclaimed by consumers and
 critics, PopCap's games are played on the Web, desktop computers, myriad
 mobile devices (cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, Pocket PCs, iPod and more),
 popular game consoles (such as Xbox), and in-flight entertainment systems.
 PopCap is the only casual games developer with leading market share across
 all major sales channels, including Web portals, retail stores, mobile
 phones and MP3 players, and game device manufacturers.
 
     The PopCap logo and all other trademarks used herein that are listed at
 http://www.popcap.com/trademarks are owned by PopCap Games, Inc. or its
 licensors and may be registered in some countries. Other company and
 product names used herein may be trademarks of their respective owners and
 are used for the benefit of those owners.
 
 
 SOURCE East Carolina University