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Playing Tetris Could Help In Curbing Addictions: Study

08/17/2015 10:36 EDT | Updated 08/17/2015 12:59 EDT

Just three minutes of playing Tetris on a smartphone could abate cravings for drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, food, sex and even sleeping by as much as one fifth, according to a new study.

The research team that demonstrated the game's ability to do so in a laboratory setting last year became the first to do so in a natural setting by this year's installment of Tetris-based discipline, which was published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

"Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs, food, and activities from 70 per cent to 56 per cent," says co-author Professor Jackie Andrade, of Plymouth University in the UK. "This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating."

Working with 31 students between the ages of 18 and 27, the researchers surveyed their cravings, reminding them via text messaging seven times per day to tell them what they fancied and whether they sprang for it.

Additionally, they encouraged the students to report any cravings they might be feeling between text message promptings and in all cases they reported what they were craving and just how much they wanted it on a scale between zero and 100.

Participants were asked to admit whether they had been drinking alcoholic beverages at the time of the reporting.

Among the participants, 15 of them had been asked to play Tetris using an iPod for three minutes after each text message prompt.

Cravings-data from the other 16 participants was used as a baseline to find out just how much Tetris makes a difference.

Thirty per cent of the time, the students reported cravings, and two-thirds of these claims involved cravings for food and non-alcoholic beverages.

As for substances classified as drugs such as coffee, cigarettes, wine and beer, this accounted for 21 per cent of the cravings reported.

Sixteen per cent of cravings were for sleeping, playing video games, socializing and sex.

"The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types," says co-author Professor Jon May, also of Plymouth University. "People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off.

In fact, Tetris-playing students kept their cravings at bay throughout the seven-day experiment, according to the study.

"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," says Professor May.

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