If cravings are running your life, try playing Tetris. The computer game can lessen the urge for a doughnut, chocolate, a cigarette or maybe even sex, finds a new study published in the journal Appetite.

“We know that cravings are associated with drug use, and early dropout of weight-loss programs,” said Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at Plymouth University's Cognition Institute in the U.K. “They make life difficult.”

“It’s not pleasant to be craving,” agreed psychologist David Kavanagh of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

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“It’s great to really want to eat or make love, if that’s possible right now. But it’s a torture if you can’t. So, if we can help people deal with craving -- blunt it a bit, or give them some time out -- it can not only help them stay in control, but it may make them feel a bit better as well.”

The Plymouth researchers, led by Jessica Skorka-Brown, tested the effects of Tetris on individuals who reported “natural” cravings of varying degrees -- as opposed to cravings deliberately generated by researchers with chocolates, for instance.

One group of cravers played Tetris and the other waited as a computer program loaded and never finished loading. After the screen time the subjects again were asked to rate their cravings.

They found that the Tetris players experienced 24 percent weaker cravings than those who waited unsuccessfully for the game to load.


The reason for the lower cravings, said Skorka-Brown and her colleagues, is that Tetris is a fast-moving visual game that requires attention to shapes and positions. That distracts the part of the brain that produces imagery of the thing you crave and therefore makes it harder to crave. It's an aspect of the game that anyone can test.

“Next time you play Tetris, try to visualize a friend's face,” said Andrade. It's not easy to do without your game suffering.”

“We also know that craving interferes with other tasks -- it grabs our attention, and our ability to think about other things at the same time,” Kavanagh said.

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“This is because we have a limited capacity in our brains to hold things in attention and work on them.” Thinking about a pyramid, for example, and rolling it around in imaginary space requires us to hold the shape in our attention and work on how it would look as it moves.

“What this and some other recent studies do, is flip this around,” Kavanagh explained. “If craving interferes with other tasks, what about using other tasks to interfere with craving? And if craving is linked to imagery, what about using another task that requires similar limited cognitive space -- like this game."

The game also has another quality that makes it particularly useful in distracting cravers, said Andrade: It's fun. That makes it far more likely to be used than trying to play with an imaginary pyramid in your mind's eye.

Kavanagh also stressed the importance of testing the technique on cravings that were not intentionally created in the lab, as has been done in previous studies.

“This study is important, in that it uses desires that are just naturally occurring, and shows that the idea still works,” he said.