Playing a video game helped schizophrenia patients tune down external voices by controlling the part of the brain associated with verbal hallucinations.
Researchers who conducted the study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry said that the technique can help other people living with schizophrenia who experience verbal hallucinations, particularly, those who do not respond to medications.
Figures from the World Health Organization show that schizophrenia affects more than 21 million people worldwide.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder marked by a profound disruption in thinking that affects perception, language, and sense of self. Sufferers often have psychotic experiences such as hearing voices or delusions.
"When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and concentration, and lack of motivation," the American Psychiatric Association explained.
About 70 percent of people suffering from the condition hear voices. Although medication is available, it is not effective for about 30 percent of these patients.
The new study proposes a new approach to easing this symptom, and so far the alternative treatment shows much promise.
Novel Approach That May Help Schizophrenia Patients
For the study, Dr. Natasza Orlov from King's College London, and her colleagues asked 12 schizophrenic patients, who experience verbal hallucinations every day, to play a video game while in an MRI scanner.
Participants had to employ their own mental strategies to move a computerized rocket. The rocket represents their own neural activity in the speech-sensitive part of the brain. The goal is for the participants to land the rocket down to Earth.
After doing this activity over four visits, the participants were able to reduce their neural activity with the help of the space rocket. This implies that participants were able to tune down external voices, thereby, reducing the power of their hallucinations.The patients eventually learned lasting strategies that they could apply every day.
The researchers said they encouraged the patients to use this control strategy at home.
"We want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them, or stop the voices completely," Orlov said.
The researchers said that the technique used in the study offered a novel approach that can potentially help patients with schizophrenia.
"These findings suggest that patients with AVH have the ability to alter activity and connectivity in speech and language regions, and raise the possibility that rtfMRI-NF training could present a novel therapeutic intervention in SCZ," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on Feb. 12.