Playing Tetris for just three minutes can reduce cravings for drugs, food, cigarettes, alcohol and sex, scientists have found. The researchers believe their findings could be used to help people manage their cravings – including those dependent on drugs.
A team of psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology monitored participants over the course of a week in natural settings, asking them to play the game at random intervals throughout the day. The 31 participants, aged between 18 and 27, were prompted by text message to report any cravings they were having. They were also asked to report cravings pro-actively without prompts. Fifteen participants were asked to play Tetris for three minutes before reporting their craving levels again.
Publishing their findings in the journal Addictive Behaviours, researchers found cravings were reported in 30% of instances – mostly for food and non-alcoholic drinks. A fifth of the cravings involved drugs, including coffee, cigarettes, wine and beer. Another 16% were for activities like sleeping, playing videogames and having sex.
The researchers found playing Tetris decreased the craving strength for drugs (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine) and activities like sex and gaming by an average of 13.9%, with the effects remaining consistent across the entire week. "This is the first demonstration that visual cognitive interference can be used in the field to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating," they wrote.
Study author Jackie Andrade said: "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. 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. As a support tool, Tetris could help people manage their cravings in their daily lives and over extended time periods."
Jon May, another author, added that the effect of playing Tetris did not appear to wear off throughout the week: "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."