Study Finds Biofeedback using Video Games Helps Children Curb Anger Issues

November 1, 2012

Researchers at Boston’s Children’s Hospital observed children with anger control problems are often disinterested in traditional psychotherapy but are eager to play video games.

The team used a video game with biofeedback to help the children learn to respond to and manage their emotions in the video game – learning a skill they can then apply to life situations.

For five days, the study compared two groups of children from 9 to 17 years of age who were admitted to the hospital's Psychiatry Inpatient Service due to high levels of anger. Qualified children were required to have a normal IQ and not require any change in medication during the study period.

One group of 19 children received five sessions of traditional treatments for anger management, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and social skills training during the study period. A second group of 18 children received the same treatments with 15 minutes of their psychotherapy session playing video games with biofeedback.

After the sessions, the children who participated on the video games were significantly better at keeping their heart rate down and showed significant decreases in anger scores, specifically on the intensity of anger at a particular time, frequency of angry feelings over time and expression of anger towards others or objects.

The children who played the biofeedback games also experienced a decrease in suppressed, internalized anger. In contrast, the standard-treatment group showed no significant change from baseline in similar measures.

Going forward, the researchers are conducting additional controlled studies to see if combining the video game interaction with parents and siblings will increase its effect.

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