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Biofeedback video game teaches kids anger management

Doctors at Boston Children's Hospital have been using a video game that monitors children's heart rates to help them keep their tempers in check.

(Credit: Taito)

Doctors at Boston Children's Hospital have been using a video-game that monitors children's heart rates to help them keep their tempers in check.

Here's one we wish we could give to a few people on Xbox Live. Doctors Jason Kahn, PhD, and Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD, have developed a PC game called RAGE Control that teaches kids that have anger problems how to manage those emotions.

(Credit: Boston Children's Hospital)

Players are hooked up to a fingertip heart-rate monitor while they play, and the heart-rate is displayed on the screen. The game is a space shooter; the aim is to shoot the enemy ships and leave the friendly ships alone. If the player's heart-rate gets too high, the controls lock and the player is unable to continue shooting until their heart-rate comes down again. The aim is to teach children how to remain calm in stressful situations.

The sample size of the study was small: 37 children aged 9 to 17 were divided into two groups. The first group, consisting of 19 of the children, were given only standard therapy — cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation exercises and social skills training. The second group of 18 children were given the same, but their therapy session ended with 15 minutes of playing RAGE control.

After daily sessions over a five-day period, the group that played the game were significantly better at managing their heart rate and had decreased anger scores in intensity, frequency and expression. The control group, on the other hand, showed no significant change.

Study head Peter Ducharme thought the results positive. He said in the study that, "Kids reported feeling better control of their emotions when encountering day-to-day frustrations on the unit. 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."

The team is now conducting a new clinical trial that adds co-op gameplay, and is planning a third trial to test the effectiveness of playing the game at home with family.

It's early days, but we think the pilot study has provided cause to be optimistic. What do you think?