Anger management video game monitors child's heart rate

Children fighting - posed by models Lessons from the game could help children long term, researchers said (photograph posed by models)

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A video game designed to help children with serious anger management problems has been produced by a US hospital.

Rage Control uses a device placed on a child's finger to monitor heart rate - if it gets too high, they lose the ability to shoot at enemy spaceships.

The player must learn to keep calm in order to play the game successfully.

Researchers said the game led to "significant decreases" in anger in the children studied.

ScienceBlog.com reported that the results appeared as part of a study set to be published in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.

"The connections between the brain's executive control centres and emotional centres are weak in people with severe anger problems," said senior investigator on the study, Dr Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich.

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

Anger intensity

The study, led by Boston Children's Hospital, compared two groups of nine- to 17-year-olds.

Both groups received standard anger management treatments - but the second group also spent 15 minutes playing Rage Control at the end of their session.

The study said that after five sessions, the children who had played the game were better at keeping their heart rate down - and showed lower scores on a recognised rating scale for severity of anger issues in children.

Start Quote

I think the key to engaging young people is working at their level.”

End Quote Dr Simone Fox Royal Hollway

The study's lead author, Peter Ducharme, said it was hoped that children playing the game would be able to apply the same calming techniques to other areas of life.

"Kids reported feeling better control of their emotions when encountering day-to-day frustrations on the unit," he said.

"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."

Next steps in the study include producing toys made with similar principles for children too young to be suitable for the video game.

These may include racing cars that stop if a child gets too excited and a cooperative building block game that becomes more wobbly if the child's heart rate goes up.

Mind control

Using computer games, or other interactive tools, to aid in treatment or recovery is becoming more common - but is rooted in science first discovered in the early 1900s.

Electroencephalography feedback (known as EEG) is a technology that monitors the level of brain activity.

Other examples of EEG's use is in a game called Mindball, in which players must move a ball with their thoughts, using brain-wave detectors.

Competing players must become more relaxed than their opponent in order to move the ball and win the game.

In a study similar to that carried out by Boston Children's Hospital, researchers found that encouraging children to engage in activities that made use of EEG led to an improvement in overall focus and concentration.

Understanding anger

Video games aside, simple anger management strategies include:

  • Trying a non-contact competitive sport
  • Learning relaxation or meditation
  • Shouting and screaming in a private, quiet place
  • Banging your fists into a pillow
  • Going running

Dr Simone Fox, a clinical and forensic psychologist, and a senior lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, said it was important to use this type of technology to demonstrate to children why their body reacted in certain ways.

"It's creating an awareness of how your body might be reacting when you're feeling angry," she told the BBC.

"I guess the video games are developing an awareness that they're linked - that you get sweaty, your muscles get tense and so on."

The approach had benefits over traditional methods, Dr Fox said, by presenting an alternative environment for children who may find it difficult to engage with psychologists.

"I think the key to engaging young people is working at their level.

"A lot of children with anger management problems just don't want to talk [about the issue] that way. Being creative and having alternative ways of addressing this is going to be key."

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