When you have a craving for something—be it a cigarette, a drink, or a cookie—you probably have some kind of image of that object in your head. You picture yourself taking a drag, or you remember the taste of a warm, freshly-baked peanut-butter cookie.
That minds-eye view is why dieters and smokers often find it so difficult to brush off cravings. It’s what makes quitting so difficult. It would seem to follow, then, that a mere visual distraction could help reduce cravings—something like a game of Tetris, maybe?
Researchers at Plymouth University in the U.K. have found a three-minute game of Tetris may help reduce nicotine and food cravings. The study had 119 college-aged students describe the nature and intensity of their cravings before playing a game of Tetris. For half of the subjects, the game functioned properly, but for the other half it was programmed to display an error message that prevented them from playing. Following the experience, they were again asked to assess their cravings.
Every student that participated found their cravings grew weaker, but those who successfully played a game of Tetris reported that the reductions were far greater.
Researchers explained that it isn’t Tetris itself that helps reduce cravings—sorry, gamers! It’s the visual, interactive nature of the experience that helps your mind jump the track. Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor and co-author of the report, told NBC News that speech and listening tasks proved less effective.
“It doesn’t have to be Tetris, it could be anything visual,” she said. “It also doesn’t have to be mentally demanding, but if it is, it has a better chance to block the craving.”
So next time you need a cigarette or find yourself craving a brownie, try pulling out your phone and playing a round of Flappy Bird. Just make sure you don’t become addicted to that. (This writer can recall a particularly fierce addiction to Minesweeper that had him lying awake at night with game patterns cycling through his head.)
Then again, I suppose that’s still better than a cigarette or food addiction.