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A Video Game Can Help Schizophrenia Patients Control ‘Hearing Voices’

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Patients who have schizophrenia can be trained to control a part of their brains linked to “hearing voices” by playing a video game, a new study says.

In a small study, schizophrenia patients were able to land a rocket in a virtual game when it was linked to the region of the brain sensitive to speech and human voices, the BBC reports. Over time, the patients learned to use the technique daily and saw a reduction in verbal hallucinations.

Researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and the University of Roehampton, say that while this is a pilot study and findings need to be confirmed, the results show that the technique can be used on schizophrenia patients who don’t respond to medication.

People who suffer from schizophrenia are known to have a more active auditory cortex, meaning they are incredibly sensitive to sounds and voices.

Twelve patients were asked to play a video game while in an MRI scanner, using their own mental abilities to move a computerized rocket. In doing the activity, they were able to lower the volume on the nasty external vices they were hearing.

Natasza Orlov, from King’s College London, said,

The patients know when the voices are about to start – they can feel it, so we want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them, or stop the voices completely.

All the patients in the study had four turns each in the MRI scanner and reported that the voices became less external and more internal, allowing them to cope more ably.

Orlov added, “Although the study sample size is small and we lacked a control group, these results are promising. We are now planning to conduct a randomized controlled study to test this technique in a larger sample.”

The study was published in Translational Psychiatry.

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