Scientists are combining the worlds of video games and mental health treatments to provide easily accessible, low-cost, effective means of addressing growing demand in the mental health field, especially depression and anxiety. Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary is a Psychology professor at Hunters College at City University New York who has been developing “Personal Zen,” an online game designed to provide behavior-modification treatment on a smartphone. “This is the great thing about especially mobile health tech. We have high accessibility, so make it affordable, decrease stigma, make it fun, make it sparkly, make it magical. Why shouldn’t you have unicorns to reduce depression?” A 2017 test found “Personal Zen” successfully reduced the amount of the stress hormone cortisol present in pregnant women.
The idea is to take the brain’s focus off threats and redirect that to more positive thoughts. That shift of thinking can influence a change in someone’s perception of events happening around them. Dr. Dennis-Tiwary has continued refining the game with professional developers as her research continues. “When we test out these digital health tools, we say we have to test if it works. It’s not going to work for everyone. How do we understand for whom it works best and how we boost efficacy?” Progress in applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning are applied to personalize treatments based on the individual’s needs.
Personal Zen is available through iTunes.