Study Finds Tetris Reduces Food And Drug Cravings

By McCarton Ackerman 08/20/15

The laser-sharp focus needed to play the game just might eliminate addiction cravings.

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Most of us have experienced the mental energy it takes to succeed in a game of Tetris, but a new study has found the laser-sharp focus that the game requires can actually help decrease cravings for food and drugs.

The data published in the latest issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors showed that playing Tetris helped decrease an addiction by 56-70% and reduced cravings in as little as three minutes. That’s because the game requires all the mental capability of the user and literally leaves no space for cravings.

Researchers tracked 32 undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 27 and monitored that craving levels while playing the video game for a whole week. They played in everyday environments so that the experience mirrored daily life as opposed to lab experiments. Participants then recorded and reported their cravings seven times per day throughout the study.

But while the study was initially designed to determine whether Tetris was effective in reducing food cravings, the psychologists later found it reduced cravings for drugs, alcohol, coffee and sex. This was particularly noticeable because 21% of the participants reported cravings for drugs, wine, beer, cigarettes or coffee. About 66% of the group reported cravings for food and non-alcoholic drinks, while 16% had cravings for activities like video games, sleeping, and sex.

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,” said Jackie Andrade, professor from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University. “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.”

The researchers will now take these findings further by conducting the same study on drug-dependent individuals and observing their reactions.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.