The results of a new study show the benefits of playing tetris when fighting with an addiction or craving – a minimum of three minutes at a time can reduce cravings for drugs, food and other activities like sex and sleeping by almost 20%.
Psychologists working at the Plymouth University and the Queensland University of Technology, Australia, studied the effect the game of block-stacking has on cravings not only for food but also drugs, including cigarettes, alcohol and coffee, and other addictive activities.
Over a period of seven days, participants were prompted to play Tetris at regular intervals and were monitored for levels of cravings.
During the experiment, 31 undergraduate volunteers, aged 18 to 27, were contacted seven times a day via text message to report on any cravings they were feeling. They were also encouraged to report cravings proactively.
Cravings were recorded in 30% of contacts, most commonly for food and non-alcoholic beverages such as soda or juice, being reported in two-thirds of occasions. Twenty-one percent of cravings reported were for substances categorized as drugs (including wine, beer, coffee, and cigarettes) and 16% were for miscellaneous activities such as sleeping, socializing with friends, playing video games and sexual intercourse. Food cravings tended to be slightly weaker than these other categories.
Before reporting their craving levels again fifteen members of the group were required to play Tetris on an iPod for three minutes.
“Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs, food, and activities from 70% to 56%. This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating,” says professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University.
Professor Jon May, also of Plymouth University said that the impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types.
“People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off. This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it,” he added.
This was the first test of its kind to study people in natural settings outside of a laboratory. The report was published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors. The researchers say that playing the game could help people to manage their cravings, and they have recommended further research, including testing people dependent on drugs.
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!