A team of researchers from the University of Central Florida has explored the restorative impact of playing video games on those conducting high-pressure work roles. Focusing on those in taxing working environments, such as soldiers and doctors, the study aimed to find out whether video games can be used to alleviate the strain chronic stress puts on people’s mental wellbeing and performance.
Experiencing stress over long periods of time and with little relief is known to cause a variety of negative outcomes. These include impaired memory, concentration and learning, sleep problems and anxiety. It can also contribute to heart disease and strokes, as well as a myriad of other physical issues.
Those who work long, irregular hours in very demanding roles are particularly prone to experiencing these symptoms. Stress-related chronic fatigue causes both personal unhappiness and diminished performance. Against the backdrop of a working culture that demands ever more productivity and efficiency, the University of Central Florida study set out to understand whether video games can be a cost effective way to reduce stress and its attendant problems.
In this study, the researchers used three methods of rest – a break, guided meditation and playing video games – to assess the effectiveness of video games in reducing stress and restoring cognitive functions. Breaks from work and meditation are already known to help in these areas, but the researchers argued that both may be impractical for highly demanding jobs, (an assumption that is useful for the purposes of the study but could be contested).
The researchers measured how much each type of rest reduced stress, boosted mood and improved fatigue-impaired cognitive functioning. Simply having a break was found to be the least effective method, while meditation positively influenced both mood and stress levels. While no method increased cognitive functioning, it was discovered that playing video games had the most positive impact on stress and mood, and also helped with the employee’s task engagement.
The conclusion was that brief intervals of gaming, at ten minutes or less, “has the potential of improving employee productivity and efficiency and therefore improving a company’s profitability”. However, the study’s short-term nature and small scope has inherent limitations.
It’s acknowledged by the researchers that further studies are needed to ascertain which aspects of video gaming prompt this positive effect. At this moment it cannot be said whether video games would only serve to slightly alleviate the impact of unsustainable working practices, which negatively influences both the health of staff and productivity levels.
Further investigation should address whether, over the long term, organizations would be better served by implementing changes to their working culture. This method – although effective in the immediate aftermath – also hasn’t been proven to have the long-term benefits that have been found in practicing meditation, or been tested against a more formally implemented wellbeing program.
The findings of this study have some interesting implications for how workplace stress is tackled. With more research it may well become part of a wider strategy, used by organizations that aim to reduce the staff absenteeism, health issues and reduced efficiency that is caused by chronic stress.
This post was written by Will Williams Meditation, a meditation center that helps people combat stress using meditation.