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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Computer games boost self-esteem
Children playing a computer game
The games are specially designed to prompt positive feelings
Experts have developed computer games specifically designed to boost people's self-esteem.

The three games have been created by researchers at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.

Each trains people to focus on positive, rather than negative, feedback - a message the researchers hope people will take away with them.

Initial results show that people who played the games were more positive and less likely to expect rejection.

Because high self-esteem tends to be a 'virtuous' cycle, there's every possibility that any gains might be long lasting
Dr Adrian Joinson, Open University
The McGill team said low self-esteem often stemmed from worries about whether they will be liked and accepted by people around them.

These feelings stem from their own negative feelings.

The researchers created computer games aimed at breaking these kind of negative thought patterns through repeated positive messages.

In the first computer game, EyeSpy: The Matrix, players are asked to search for a single smiling face in a matrix of 15 frowning faces. The thinking behind the game is that it trains players to focus on positive rather than negative feedback.

In Wham!, the player registers their name and birthday. Once the game is in action, the player's personal information is paired with smiling, accepting faces, which then leads to a more positive attitude.

The third game, Grow Your Chi, combines the tasks of Wham! and EyeSpy: The Matrix.

'Thought patterns'

Psychologists tested the effects of Wham! on 139 people.

They used psychological tests to measure levels of self-esteem.

Half then played Wham! and the rest a dummy version of the game for 10 minutes.

Self-esteem was measured again after the session. The results showed that people who had played Wham! had higher self-esteem levels.

In a second study, 64 people played either EyeSpy: The Matrix or a dummy version.

Again, players' self-esteem was measured before they started.

Tests afterwards showed those who had played Eye Spy, especially those with low self-esteem were less likely to focus on rejection than those who completed the dummy task.

Professor Mark Baldwin, who oversaw the studies, said: "For people with low self-esteem, negative thought patterns occur automatically and often involuntarily, leading them to selectively focus their attention on failures and rejections."

He added: "We are now starting to examine the possible benefits of playing these games every day.

"We plan to study whether these kinds of games will be helpful to schoolchildren, sales people dealing with job-related rejection and perhaps people on the dating scene."

But he said: "These games do not replace the hard work of psychotherapy.

"Our findings, however, provide hope that a new set of techniques can gradually be developed to help people as they seek to overcome low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity."

'Well-established method'

Dr Adam Joinson, a psychologist at The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology, told BBC News Online: "The bind for people with really debilitating confidence problems is that often success requires them to take risks. But, they're not happy to do this, since the impact of failure would be so strongly felt.

"So, for people with particularly low self-esteem, indirect ways of raising it, like these games to make more positive associations or redirect their attention, might be particularly appropriate."

He added: "Using games to address psychological problems is quite a well established method. For instance, the use of virtual reality to address phobias is well advanced.

"These self-esteem games, while probably not appropriate for everyone, certainly add to the methods available to people. And, because high self-esteem tends to be a 'virtuous' cycle, there's every possibility that any gains might be long lasting."

The research will be published in the journal Psychological Science and the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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