The Efficacy of a Novel Video Game Intervention (MindLight) in Reducing Children's Anxiety
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Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent form of psychopathology among children and adolescents. Because demand for treatment far exceeds availability, there is a need for alternative approaches that are engaging, accessible, cost-effective, and incorporate practice to reach as many youth as possible. One novel approach is a video game intervention called MindLight that uses two evidence-based strategies to target childhood anxiety problems. Using neurofeedback mechanics to train players to: (1) attend to positive rather than threatening stimuli and (2) down-regulate arousal during stressful situations, MindLight teaches children how to practice overcoming anxious thoughts and arousal in a fun and engaging context. The present study examined the effectiveness of MindLight versus online cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) based psychoeducation sessions as a comparison in reducing anxiety in a sample of 144 anxious children, which was measured in three ways: (1) anxiety symptoms, (2) state anxiety in response to stress, and (3) psychophysiological arousal in response to stress. Children between the ages of 8.05–17.78 years (M=13.61, SD=1.79) were randomly assigned to play MindLight or complete psychoeducation for five hours over three weeks. State anxiety and psychophysiological arousal were assessed in response to two stress tasks before and after exposure to MindLight or psychoeducation. Anxiety symptoms were also measured via a questionnaire. Overall, participants showed significant reductions in anxiety symptoms and state anxiety in response to stress, but not psychophysiological arousal in response to stress. Moreover, the magnitude of reductions in anxiety did not differ between interventions but by age and sex. Specifically, older participants showed a greater decrease in severity of state anxiety in response to a social stressor than younger participants and girls showed a greater decrease in severity of state anxiety in response to a cognitive stressor than boys. The present study suggests that playing MindLight results in similar reductions in anxiety as one of the more common means of delivering CBT principles to youth.