Video game shown to cut cortisol



    Playing social-intelligence game reduces stress hormone by 17 percent

    MONTREAL, Oct. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - A video game designed by McGill
University researchers to help train people to change their perception of
social threats and boost their self-confidence has now been shown to reduce
the production of the stress-related hormone cortisol. The new findings appear
in the October issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology.
    "We already knew that it was possible to design games to allow people to
practise new forms of social perception, but we were surprised by the impact
this had when we took the games out of the lab and into the context of
people's stressful lives," said McGill psychology professor Mark Baldwin.
    Prof. Baldwin and his team - McGill PhD graduates Stéphane Dandeneau and
Jodene Baccus and graduate student Maya Sakellaropoulo - have been developing
a suite of video games that train players in social situations to focus more
on positive feedback rather than being distracted and deterred by perceived
social slights or criticisms. The games are based on the emerging science of
social intelligence, which has found that a significant part of daily stress
comes from our social perceptions of the world.
    In a 2004 study of 56 students, a standard reaction-time test showed that
the game, called the Matrix, helped people shift the way they processed social
information. The researchers next conducted several studies to see whether the
effects of the game would translate into lower stress levels in a
high-pressure context.
    In one of their recent studies, they recruited 23 employees of a
Montreal-based call centre to play one of their games, which involves clicking
on the one smiling face among many frowning faces on a screen as quickly as
possible. Through repetitive playing, the game trains the mind to orient more
toward positive aspects of social life, said Prof. Baldwin.
    The call-centre employees did this each workday morning for a week. They
filled out daily stress and self-esteem questionnaires and had their cortisol
levels tested through saliva analysis on the final day of the experiment.
These tests showed an average 17-percent reduction in cortisol production
compared to a control group that played a similar game but without the smiling
faces. The cortisol levels were tested by Jens Pruessner of the Montreal
Neurological Institute's McConnell Brain Imaging Centre and Douglas Hospital
Research Centre, a co-author of the study.
    "There are many possible applications for this kind of game," said
Prof. Baldwin, "from helping people cope with the social anxiety of public
speaking or meeting new people, to helping athletes concentrate more on their
game rather than worrying about performing poorly."
    The team's ongoing research led to the creation of a spin-off company,
MindHabits, whose MindHabits Trainer game recently won Telefilm Canada's Great
Canadian Video Game Competition. The distinction has earned the company
$800,000 from Telefilm to be matched with private funding for a total of
$1.3 million to support the commercialization of the game. The resulting
product is scheduled for release this month and is available through the
company's website, www.mindhabits.com.




For further information:

For further information: Michael Bourguignon, Media Relations Officer,
McGill University, (514) 398-8305, michael.bourguignon@mcgill.ca


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