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How video games can help people worry less


There's a state of mind called flow, when you're completely absorbed in an activity that's challenging but not too hard.


Artists feel it when they paint or draw. Musicians feel it when they play an instrument. It's a sense of deep engagement with an activity where you might look up and suddenly notice a lot of time has passed.

ELLIOTT: And flow can help you feel less stressed, says Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

KATE SWEENY: Flow is really good for us. It gives us a lot of positive emotions, but it's also especially well-suited to times when we're really in our heads, when we're worried about the future, when we're ruminating about something and we just can't turn it off. Flow is a pretty good off switch for that kind of thinking.

FADEL: Sweeny says an easy way to achieve flow is by playing video games.

SWEENY: There's really two groups of people who know a lot about flow. That's psychologists and video game designers. And video games are really kind of, as a whole, built for exactly this purpose. They're getting harder as you get better. They're showing you when you're making progress.

ELLIOTT: Sweeny's studied how video games help people worry less. She recruited 300 college students and put them in a slightly stressful situation.

FADEL: They were unexpectedly photographed and made to believe that their peers would be rating their picture.

ELLIOTT: While the students waited, they played a game that was similar to Tetris.


FADEL: There were three versions of the classic game where players have to stack up falling blocks. There was a hard one where the blocks moved too quickly and frustrated the players.

ELLIOTT: And a slow one that was too boring.

FADEL: And a third version that was just right and allowed players to achieve flow.

SWEENY: And the folks who were in that state, that flow state that we created with the game, they had an easier time waiting for that news about their attractiveness than those who were in the other conditions.

ELLIOTT: Sweeny says flow can be a bit of a gateway to addiction, but anything can be addictive if you do it too much.

SWEENY: It's a great tool for flow, as long as you're not sort of overdoing it and checking out too much from your life.

FADEL: I need flow. I'm going to download that just right Tetris game.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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