Online game smiles vanquish blues

CIOL Bureau
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Solarina Ho


TORONTO: Find the smiling face on the computer screen and reduce stress. Researchers at McGill University in Montreal say that tests have shown that doing just that for five or 10 minutes helps cut stress and boosts confidence.

The McGill research team has developed the MindHabits Trainer game, in which one exercise shows a grid of faces, with 15 of them frowning and one smiling. The player must find the smiling face as quickly as possible.

"It's harder than it sounds," said McGill psychology professor Mark Baldwin, who led the team.


The idea is that through repetitive playing, the mind is trained to focus on the positive aspects of life.In a field test, a sample group of telemarketers was asked to play the game everyday for a week just before their shift. A control group spent five to 10 minutes playing another game, without smiling faces, before their shift started.

At the end of the week, the group that played the "find the smile" exercise reported feeling less stressed, had higher self esteem, made more sales, and were rated as being more confident in their phone calls. Most remarkably, said Balwin, they had 17 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Findings from the study appear in the October issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


"It's not like an adventure game where you plug yourself in and you lose track of time for six hours. It's the kind of thing where you do it for a little bit everyday just for a break," Baldwin said.

Like Nintendo DS's extremely popular Brain Age game series -- which stimulates the brain with math and memory exercises -- MindHabits offers several different activities. There's also a "lab" section that explains the science behind the exercises.

The game can be found online at, available as a free trial version, or C$19.99 for the full version.

"Our hope is that it will be useful to pretty much anybody who has stress in their lives -- which we figure is probably just about everyone," Baldwin said.