Video game with biofeedback may help children manage their anger

Boston Children's Hospital has developed a video game called RAGE Control that will hopefully help children practice emotional control skills that they can use later in life when they find themselves in challenging situations, ScienceBlog reports.

Two doctors from the hospital, Jason Kahn, PhD and Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD, found that children with serious anger problems often resisted psychotherapthy but were eager to play video games, so they devised a game with a biofeed to motivate children to find ways to keep calm.

While children play RAGE Control, a monitor attached to their finger tracks their heart rate and displays it on the game's screen. The game requires the player to shoot at enemy space ships while avoiding the friendly ships. When the child's heart rate exceeds a certain level, they lose their ability to shoot at the enemy ships. In order to regain that ability, they must learn to keep calm and lower their heart rate.

The pilot study compared two groups of 9-17 year old children who were admitted to Boston Children's Hospital's Psychiatry Inpatient Service who had high levels of anger. To qualify for the study the children had to have a normal IQ and not change any medication they were on during the five-day study period.

Gonzalez-Heydrich said of the study: "The connections between the brain's executive control centers and emotional centers are weak in people with severe anger problems.

"However, to succeed at RAGE Control, players have to learn to use these centers at the same time to score points."

A clinical social worker at the hospital who led the study, Peter Ducharme, MSW, said that the children who took part in the study reported feeling more in control of their emotions when encountering day-to-day frustrations.

"While this was a pilot study, and we weren't able to follow the kids after they were discharged, we think the game will help them control their emotions in other environments."

A randomized, controlled clinical trial of RAGE Control is now taking place in an outpatient clinic at Boston Children's Hospital. The results of the pilot study were published today in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.

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