How Video Games Can Improve Brain Functioning and Treat Mental Illnesses

“Do you suffer from schizophrenia? Do you hear distressing voices? There’s an app for that.” The claim of the latest “web-tutor” might sound like a scam, but it actually introduces us to an entirely new approach in treating mental illnesses. While the causes of schizophrenia depend on a still obscure combination of genetic, environmental and developmental factors, a big step towards curing its symptoms has recently been accomplished by a research team at the University of California, San Francisco, led by NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee Sophia Vinogradov. The symptoms of schizophrenia, beyond delusions and hallucinations, include a range of cognitive and social deficits which affect memory, decision-making, attention, and social cognition. These problems are not helped by current antipsychotic drugs, and psychotherapeutic measures are only of limited benefit. For the past 10 years, Sophia Vinogradov has focused on the design, implementation, and evaluation of neuroscience-informed computerised exercises to improve these undervalued symptoms – with life-changing  implications for patients. As a 2012 study was able to demonstrate that “a serious behavioral deficit in schizophrenia, and its underlying neural dysfunction, can be improved by well-designed computer cognitive training, resulting in a better quality of life.”

Sophia Vinogradov

University of California, San Francisco

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