One day soon we may be able to significantly lower our stress levels by simply playing a game on our smartphones for a few minutes every day. Researchers at Hunter College of the City University of New York recently held trials for a smartphone application that is hoped to help those suffering from stress and anxiety. The application would involve transforming a new anti-anxiety treatment, called Attention-Bias Modification Training, into a game for your hand-held device. The study plans to provide an easier way for those suffering from mental health issues to receive the help they need.

According to Tracy Dennis, the lead researcher at Hunter College, it often is hard to get treatment to those who suffer from anxiety and stress. “A key factor here is that many evidence-based treatments are burdensome, time consuming, expensive, difficult to access, and perceived as stigmatized,” Dennis explained.

However, the gaming app would solve these problems by not only being available to anyone with access to a smartphone or tablet, but also being quickly effective. Popularly known as “Gamifying,” this new treatment could drastically improve the lives of many suffering from mental health problems.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, the study consisted of 75 participants who were rated as highly anxious and stressed. Each played the gaming app for a set period of time. Afterward, researchers recorded the behavior and speech of the participants while they were asked to speak about a situation that would normally cause them stress. Amazingly, the results showed that those who had played the gaming app displayed less signs of distress in their behavior and speech than those who had played a placebo game.

Scientists at Hunter were able to come up with the same successful results even with game playing intervals as short as 25 minutes. However, with most people only playing a smartphone game for a few minutes at a time, scientists are working to configure the game to be equally effective after only 10 minutes of use.

Currently the results are not strong enough to be used as a treatment for individuals clinically diagnosed with anxiety or stress. However, Dennis and her team are working to prove that gamifying is effective for those suffering from light to moderate stress levels, especially women with child birth anxieties.

It is hoped that one day these ABMT smartphone games will be used as a treatment for those suffering from a wide array of mental disorders, including depression and addictions. “Gamifying psychological interventions successfully could revolutionize how we treat mental illness and how we view our mental health,” Dennis concluded.

Source: Tracy A. Dennis and Laura J. O’Toole. Effects of a Gamified Attention-Bias Modification Mobile Application in Trait-Anxious Adults. Clinical Psychological Science. 2013.