A new rather unorthodox study has found that the classic block-stacking game Tetris can help fight against cravings. Conducted from Plymouth University and Queensland University, the research concluded that the puzzle game can cut down urges relating to food, drugs, and sex about one-fifth.
The study did not take place within a lab or controlled environment, but rather it monitored 31 undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 27 as they went about their daily lives. The participants were given iPods equipped with a Tetris app and told to play the game for at least 3 minutes (depending on their level of addiction) whenever they had a craving. They were then texted seven times a day to give a report on these cravings. Interestingly, the study initially only sought to target feelings on food, which was the common urge found in two-thirds of those studied, but soon discovered that the game can also distract people from cravings for smoking, alcohol, coffee, sex, and can even help treat sleeping disorders.
“Playing Tetris decreased craving strengths for drugs, food, and activities from 70 percent to 56 percent.” said Professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University. “This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating. We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity. 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.”
It may seem laughable, but this discovery could potentially lead to an even more effective treatment for addictions. Tetris was not only moderately effective at keeping these urges as bay, but the participants also didn’t seem to build up a tolerance to the game’s effects.
“The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types,” stated Professor Jon May of 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.”
Professor Andrade also suggested that as it stands now, the game can work simply as a support tool, saying that people can “manage their cravings in their daily lives and over extended time periods”.
The only thing I wonder is how the study would treat someone with a Tetris addiction…