Playing Tetris for just a few minutes a day reduced the feelings of craving.
In the first study of its kind, psychologists from the University of Plymouth in the UK and Queensland University of Technology in Australia sought to see if the simple tile-laying game could be applied to participants in a real-life setting.
The study follows on from the team's previous research last year that looked into how the game affected cravings in a laboratory setting.
They discovered participants who played Tetris reported weaker feelings of cravings, and it was also found the game reduced the vividness and frequency of craving imagery in individuals.
The new study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, saw psychologists analyze 31 undergraduates - 24 females and seven males - aged 18-27. The participants were randomly divided into two groups; one group was assigned to play Tetris, while the other was subject to control conditions (monitoring only).
During the experiment, participants were asked daily questions - via text message - about any feelings of cravings.
The two groups were asked the following questions seven times a day for one week:
- Have you indulged in the item you reported craving previously?
- How much are you under the influence of alcohol?
- Are you currently craving anything?
If participants answered yes to the last question, they were then asked to rate how strong the feeling of craving was on a scale of 0-100.
'It is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time'
For the Tetris group, the protocol differed slightly. Rather than simply answer the questions, they were asked to play Tetris for 3 minutes and then report on their feelings on cravings once again.
After just 3 minutes of play, results revealed participants in the Tetris group reported a decreased feeling of cravings, with a reduction from 70% to 56%.
Prof. Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University, explains:
"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."
Cravings were reported 30% of the time in total - the most common object of desire being food or non-alcoholic drinks. Substances - including coffee, cigarettes, wine and beer - accounted for 21% of cravings.
Sixteen percent of cravings were for miscellaneous activities such as socializing, sleeping, playing video games and sexual intercourse. Results showed food cravings to be slightly weaker than those in other categories.
Participants under the influence of alcohol did not report an increase in craving strength, but results did show a higher indulgence rate.
Consistent results across the week
Psychologists found the impact of Tetris was consistent across the week and on all types of craving. Prof. John May, from the University of Plymouth, explains:
"People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off. 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."
The study concludes by recommending further research on the effects of Tetris. This includes increasing the period of time analyzed and seeing how those already dependent on substances respond.
Prof. Andrade hopes the research can be an important step toward new treatments for cravings. She told Medical News Today:
"Addiction is far too complex a problem to be treated by Tetris alone, but tasks like Tetris might be useful tools to help people manage their cravings and give them confidence that they can beat them. It could become a component of therapy to help people for whom cravings are a particularly problematic aspect of their addiction."
This is not the first time the classic arcade game has been used as a treatment. Last month, MNT reported how Tetris may be used to reduce intrusive memories for individuals suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).