New Research: Pokémon Go: A Potential Tool for Mental Health?

New York – Playing Pokémon Go is associated with increases in physical activity and social behavior and an improved sense of well-being, researchers presenting today here at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association conclude.

Pokémon Go is a game played via a Smartphone application, where users have to walk around outdoors to “catch” Pokémon using GPS and cameras on their phones. The game involves both physical activity and social, face-to-face interactions with other players. After its launch in early 2016, Pokémon Go became a phenomenon, particularly for teens and young adults. This age group has historically been difficult to engage in behavioral treatments for depression and anxiety disorders. Although the game was not designed to be a mental health app, early anecdotal reports indicate that it may be providing mental health benefits.

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, examined whether use of the game resulted in changes in mood and anxiety symptoms. They posted a survey on the MacAnxiety Research Centre’s website where participants completed the survey regarding use of Pokémon Go and provided demographic information and mental health history.

The survey was completed by 152 people who reported playing Pokémon Go. The mean age of this sample was 20 and the sample was 57 percent white, 78 percent female, 89 percent single and 62 percent full-time students. They spent an average of about 7 hours per week playing Pokémon Go.

One third of participants (33 percent) reported changes in social behavior since they started playing Pokémon Go. Within this group, 85 percent spoke to more unfamiliar people, 76 percent spent more time with friends, 41 percent made new friends while playing, and 51 percent reported that the game increased their physical activity. In addition, 29 percent reported an improved sense of well-being and 12 percent reported weight loss. Study participants with a history of mental health treatment spent more time playing than those without previous mental health treatment.

The authors concluded that playing Pokémon Go was associated with increases in physical activity and social behavior and an improved sense of well-being, highlighting its potential as a behavioral activation and exposure tool for mental health treatment.

Michael Van Ameringen, M.D., FRCPC, is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. His current research is focused on the psychopharmacology of Anxiety Disorders and comorbid Mood Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders, ADHD, the role of the gut microbiome in psychiatry, and treatment resistance. Other research interests include medical cannabis for anxiety and related disorders and the use of mobile mental health apps and technology-based treatments. Co-authors include William Simpson BSc, PhD, Jasmine Turna, BSc, PhD(C), Beth Patterson BScN, MSc, and Katrina Pullia, BSc.

American Psychiatric Association

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