How playing Tetris can help block cravings

How playing Tetris can help block cravings

Pull out a smartphone and clear some lines to stomp out a craving without indulging.

Playing Tetris, an online puzzle game, for as little as three minutes at a time can weaken cravings for drugs, food and activities such as sex and sleeping, according to new research.

Self-reported craving levels decreased by approximately 20 percent when study participants were monitored for levels of craving and prompted to play the block-shifting Russian puzzle game at random intervals during the day. Playing Tetris interfered with desires not only for food, but for drugs, including tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, and other activities over a seven-day period, according to psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

The research, published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors, is the first of its kind to study people in a natural setting outside of a lab.

The study provides additional evidence that visual distractions can block cravings, says Sarah Katula, psychiatric advanced practice nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

“If someone does find that playing Tetris helps them manage their cravings, the game could be used as a support tool to help them conquer addictive behaviors,” Katula says.

During the experiment, 31 university students 18 to 27 years old were prompted seven times a day via text message to report on any cravings they were feeling. They were also encouraged to report cravings proactively, independently of the prompts. Half the group was required to play Tetris on an iPod for three minutes before reporting their craving levels again.

Cravings were reported 30 percent of the time. The most common cravings were  food and non-alcoholic drinks, which were reported on nearly 66 percent of those occasions. Twenty-one percent of cravings were for substances categorized as drugs, including coffee, cigarettes, wine and beer, and 16 percent were for sleeping, playing video games, socializing with friends, sex and other miscellaneous activities. Food cravings tended to be slightly weaker than those in the other categories.

“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” Plymouth University Professor Jackie Andrade said in a news 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.”



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About the Author

Lisa Parro
Lisa Parro

Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is manager of content strategy for Advocate Aurora Health. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.