Can a video game actually help you be healthier? A somewhat surprising new study suggests that yes, it can.
Researchers at Britain’s Plymouth University found that a short burst of Tetris can actually squelch cravings for far less healthy vices, such as fatty foods, alcohol, or cigarettes--offering potential implications for companies that want to prompt better habits among employees. In other words, bye-bye cigarette breaks and hello, Tetris!
In the study, 119 people were asked if they were craving anything. If the answer was yes, they were asked to rank the strength, vividness, and intensity of the craving. Half the participants then played Tetris for just three minutes. The other half waited for the game to load on their computers. Compared to the people who were stuck waiting for their computers, the people who had actually played Tetris found the strength of their cravings had dropped by 24 percent.
The study was designed as a test of so-called elaborated intrusion theory, which holds that cravings are visually-based. According to this theory, if you’re craving, say, a cupcake, you’re actually visualizing a cupcake. Playing Tetris forces that visualization out of your mind and gets you to visualize something else.
“Episodes of craving normally only last a few minutes, during which time the individual is visualizing what they want and the reward it will bring,” says Professor Jackie Andrade, one of the researchers, on the Plymouth University web site. “Often those feelings result in the person giving in and consuming the very thing they are trying to resist. But by playing Tetris, just in short bursts, you are preventing your brain creating those images, and without them, the craving fades.”
Professor Andrade goes on to say that the stress of playing Tetris can replace the stress caused by the craving itself.
The study did not address the longer-term effects of playing Tetris, so it’s not clear if the cravings returned full-strength after the participants stopped playing, or if you’d need an awful lot of Tetris to fend off a cupcake once and for all.