Study: Repetitive Behavior Reduces Anxiety

September 26, 2011 -

New research from Tel Aviv University suggests that playing video games can reduce stress across a spectrum of the population. A study conducted by Professor David Eilam and graduate student Hila Keren of TAU's Department of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences found that repetitive behavior (like video games - which, for the record the study does not focus on or mention) and ritualistic behavior in particular in both humans and animals induces calm and helps manage stress caused by unpredictability and uncontrollability. Eliam and Keren also worked closely with Professor Pascal Boyer of Washington University and Dr. Joel Mort of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The research is published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

Eilam says that human and animal behavior can be divided into three categories: "preparatory," "functional," and "confirmatory." "Functional" is described as specific actions that must occur in order to complete a task. "Preparatory" and "confirmatory" actions, called "head" and "tail" actions by the researchers, are not required in order to get a job done. The latter two categories are completed before and after a central task, but they are not necessarily related to it. Individuals complete different head and tail activities for every task, say researchers.

During the course of the study, Eilam analyzed videotapes of people completing common tasks, such as getting dressed, locking a car, or making coffee, as well as basketball players completing free-throws. In the case of basketball players, explains Eilam, all they needed to do to complete their action is throw the ball. So why the ritualistic behavior, such as bouncing the ball precisely six times?

"The routine they perform in the moments before shooting the ball is a method to focus their full concentration and control their actions." Prof. Eilam says. It's also an essential part of sports psychology. If players feel that completing their repetitive actions will enhance their performance, they tend to be more successful. This could include anything from locker room antics to LeBron James' infamous pre-game chalk toss.

Head and tail activities can be different, but some people, like OCD sufferers, show exaggerated behavior, because they don't often understand whether the main task has been completed. These idiosyncrasies are individual to each person, says Prof. Eilam, who says that our rituals are like our fingerprints - unique to everyone. While everyone exhibits repetitive behavior, not all repetitive behavior is obsessive, researchers say. OCD patients present a pathological tendency towards repetitive behavior or thought patterns.

OCD patients engaged in more "tail" activity than basketball players who displayed more "head" activity, says Prof. Eilam. Researchers say that OCD sufferers often feel a sense of incompleteness when performing tasks because they are unsure whether or not their task has been completed, and compulsive behavior is driven by a need to verify action.

Because those who suffer from OCD can set themselves to complicated routines, they often cannot trust that they have fully completed an action, which extends the confirmatory tail phase of an action. This is the key difference between normal and pathological rituals, Prof. Eilam says.

Ultimately the study found evidence that repetitive behavior can be a good thing because it can serve as a way to relieve stress. Playing videogames likely has the same relaxing and calming effect as fishing or your grandmother knitting a sweater, if the research is to be believed.

Source: Medical News Today


 
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