Monthly Archives: June 2010

Massively multi-artist painting and drawing event

Screen shot of an aircraft crash taken from the popular Flight Simulator program. Image: Gizmodo

Some time ago I read of an event where a crowd of “Flight Simulator” aficionados were each provided with a remote control device that enabled them to manipulate an aeroplane that was projected onto a cinema screen. No individual had complete control of the aircraft; instead, the movement of the aircraft was determined by the averaged responses from the whole population of remote control devices. Even though 100 pilots all trying to fly the same aeroplane at the same time seems guaranteed to produce plane crash, that isn’ what happened. Instead, the crowd managed to get the aircraft to take-off, travel around, and land without a hitch.

Since reading about the Flight Simulator experiment, I’ve often thought about a similar experiment involving a program like Gimp or Inkscape. The idea would be to have many (10,000+) individuals around the world enroll to participate in producing a series of art-works. I don’t have the programming skill to write the necessary engine, but with the advent of massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming environments, it should now be much easier to produce than it was, say, five years ago. A “massively multi artist” drawing or painting experiment could show some interesting things about collective aesthetics.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond

Can playing Tetris inoculate against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Tetris, the game invented in 1984 by Aleksei Pazhitnov, might have a role in preventing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not only debilitating, it is also difficult and expensive to treat, so the prospect of being able to ‘inoculate’ people who have experienced the kind of events that can lead to PTSD is guaranteed to create some excitement in the psychological community. That is exactly what happened in January 2009 when Holmes et al. [1] published a paper in PLoS ONE that hints at the possibility of such an inoculation.

The researchers found that undergraduate students who had watched a film showing scenes of death and injury were less likely to have flashbacks of the film during the subsequent week if they had played the computer game ‘Tetris’ in the half-hour after seeing the film than if they had done nothing.

One of the hallmark features of post-traumatic stress disorder is that sufferers experience unwanted intrusive memories, or flashbacks, of the traumatic incident, often involving distressing sights, sounds or smells. Holmes et al. [1] argued that in playing Tetris people used their visuospatial capacities and that this interfered with the creation of traumatic sensory memories.

Betsy Hamilton at the School of Psychology of the University of Tasmania sought to replicate the study by Holmes et al. [1] using a similar population of undergraduate students as participated in the original study. As well as investigating the effect of playing the visuospatial game Tetris, Hamilton also investigated the prediction by Holmes et al. [1] that a performing a verbal task after viewing the film would not give the same protective effects as  playing Tetris, and that the verbal task might even worsen flashbacks. The result were somewhat unexpected!

Hamilton has kindly allowed us to publish a copy of her study here. It is available for download in PDF format.


[1] Holmes, E. A., James, E. L., Coode-Bate, T., Deeprose, C. (2009). Can playing the computer game “Tetris” reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science. PLoS ONE 4(1): e4153. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004153.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond, Angela O’Brien-Malone