Tetris and Word games lead to fewer intrusive memories when applied several days after analogue trauma.

11 Apr 2018

Background: Intrusive trauma memories are a key symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so disrupting their recurrence is highly important. Intrusion development was hindered by visuospatial interventions administered up to 24 hours after analogue trauma. It is unknown whether interventions can be applied later, and whether modality or working-memory load are crucial factors. Objectives: This study tested: (1) whether a visuospatial task would lead to fewer intrusions compared to a reactivation-only group when applied after memory reactivation four days after analogue trauma exposure (extended replication), (2) whether both tasks (i.e. one aimed to be visuospatial, one more verbal) would lead to fewer intrusions than the reactivation-only group (intervention effect), and (3) whether supposed task modality (visuospatial or verbal) is a critical component (modality effect). Method: Fifty-four participants were randomly assigned to reactivation+Tetris (visuospatial), reactivation+Word games (verbal), or reactivation-only (no task). They watched an aversive film (day 0) and recorded intrusive memories of the film in diary A. On day 4, memory was reactivated, after which participants played Tetris, Word games, or had no task for 10 minutes. They then kept a second diary (B). Informative hypotheses were evaluated using Bayes factors. Results: Reactivation+Tetris and reactivation+Word games resulted in relatively fewer intrusions from the last day of diary A to the first day of diary B than reactivation-only (objective 1 and 2). Thus, both tasks were effective even when applied days after analogue trauma. Reactivation-only was not effective. Reactivation+Word games appeared to result in fewer intrusions than reactivation+Tetris (objective 3; modality effect), but this evidence was weak. Explorative analyses showed that Word games were more difficult than Tetris. Conclusions: Applying a task four days after the trauma film (during memory reconsolidation) was effective. The modality versus working-memory load issue is inconclusive.