Playing Tetris for 3 minutes reduces cravings for food and alcohol

The next time you feel the urge to raid the fridge, you may want to consider grabbing a video game controller instead. As a new study shows, computer games like Tetris provide a visual distraction that can reduce cravings by as much as 24%.

According to a theory called Elaborated Intrusion, our cravings are driven by visual images that often pop into our heads. With this in mind, Plymouth University psychologists Jessica Skorka-Brown, Jackie Andrade, and Jon May wondered if a visually based task, like playing a video game, could decrease the frequency of craving imagery, and with it, the cravings themselves.

For the experiment, the researchers asked one group of volunteers to play Tetris — a popular puzzle game — while a second sat in front of a screen after being told the program was loading (ultimately, this group never did get a chance to play). Both groups were asked to rate their cravings before and after the experience (both groups had similar levels of cravings prior to the experiment).

After three minutes, the participants who played Tetris had significantly lower craving and less vivid craving imagery than the 'wait' group — by as much as 24% in some cases.

"The findings support EI theory, showing that a visuospatial working memory load reduces naturally occurring cravings, and that Tetris might be a useful task for tackling cravings outside the laboratory," conclude the authors in the study.

The study was also interesting in that, unlike previous lab studies, the researchers tested naturally, or spontaneously, occurring cravings (as opposed to artificially induced cravings).

Of course, heading out to the gym or going out for a walk are activities that are also likely to reduce cravings — but that's clearly outside the scope of this particular study.

Read the entire study at Appetite: "Playing 'Tetris' reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings."

Image: Iuskiv/Shutterstock.