PLYMOUTH, England, Aug. 14 (Stephen Feller) — Playing the block-stacking video game Tetris can ease cravings for food and drugs by about one-fifth, researchers found in a study of people in natural settings outside a laboratory.
Previous research had found that Tetris effectively reduced cravings in a lab setting. Most studies also were focused on food cravings, but researchers from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology found the method to be effective for smoking, alcohol, coffee, sex and sleeping, as well.
“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” said Dr. Jackie Andrade, a professor of psychology at Plymouth University, in a press release. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery — it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”
Researchers recruited 31 undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 27, giving them iPods with the game Tetris and texting each of them 7 times per day to report on cravings they had. Participants also were encouraged to self-report cravings throughout the day.
Half the group was advised to play Tetris for 3 minutes at a time when they had cravings and then report back to the researchers, leaving the other half as a control group.
Cravings were reported about 30 percent of the time, generally for food and non-alcoholic drinks, making up two-thirds of the cravings participants had. Cravings for things considered to be drugs — cigarettes, coffee, wine and beer — were reported 21 percent of the time. The rest of the cravings were for miscellaneous activities such as sex, sleeping, playing video games or socializing.
Among the group that played Tetris when reporting a craving, researchers said short stints of the game reduced the intensity of participants’ cravings from 70 percent to 56 percent.
Based on the results, researchers said the game may be an effective tool to help reduce cravings and manage addictions.
“The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types,” said Dr. Jon May, a professor of psychology at Plymouth University. “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.”
The study is published in Addictive Behaviors.