Need to convince the boss that playing the occasional computer game at work isn’t a total waste of time? Try this: a recent study from Plymouth University, published in the journal Appetite, says that playing Tetris reduces the strength, frequency, and vividness of cravings to engage in behaviors like snacking and smoking. In other words, “But boss, picture the savings in healthcare costs! I’m only thinking of the good of the company.”
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The study included 119 participants. At the start of the study, they were asked if they were craving something, and made to rate that craving on a scale of 1 to 100. All participants then sat before computers, where they either played Tetris, or looked at a screen that appeared to be loading Tetris.
“Of the 119 people that participated, 80 reported craving something: 58 people wanted food or drink of some kind, 10 wanted caffeine, and 12 wanted nicotine,” writes Julie Beck at The Atlantic. “Their mean craving levels were ‘reasonably high,’ the researchers write. Playing Tetris reduced their cravings by about 24 percent. The relationship between playing the game and craving reduction remained statistically significant, even when the researchers accounted for a general lessening of the craving over time, or removed the people who were only slightly craving something.”
The point of the research was to test Elaborated Intrusion Theory, which states that cravings are dependent on visual imagery. In other words, the theory goes, when we want a cup of coffee, we’re actually picturing the coffee in our minds. Study authors Jessica Skorka-Brown, Jackie Andrade, and Jon May say that this is the first study to test this theory by examining cravings.
In addition, Jackie Andrade, a professor at the University’s Cognition Institute, says that playing Tetris might help people be more motivated.
“Feeling in control is an important part of staying motivated, and playing Tetris can potentially help the individual to stay in control when cravings strike,” said Professor Andrade. “It is something a person can quickly access, for the most part whether they are at work or at home, and replaces the feeling of stress caused by the craving itself. Ultimately, we are constantly looking for ways to stimulate cravings for healthy activities — such as exercise — but this a neutral activity that we have shown can have a positive impact.”
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