Example of a Tetris game, from JsTetris version (Cezary Tomczak, Maxime Lorant via Wikimedia Commons)

Example of a Tetris game, from JsTetris version (Cezary Tomczak, Maxime Lorant via Wikimedia Commons)

Could playing a classic block-shifting puzzle video game help drug addicts and compulsive eaters overcome, or at least reduce, their addictions or their obsession with food?

Psychologists in the U.K. and Australia said that they found playing Tetris can weaken cravings for things such as drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, food and drugs, as well as such pursuits as sex and sleeping by as much as twenty percent.

Thirty-one undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 27 were recruited by the researchers at Plymouth University, England and Queensland University of Technology, Australia, as the experiment subjects.

The volunteers were randomly sent text message prompts seven times throughout a day, over a seven day test period, asking them to report any cravings they were feeling at that time.  They were also urged to report any other cravings they had at other times of the day, as well.

Fifteen of the thirty-one volunteers who reported cravings were then were told to play Tetris on an iPod for three minutes.  Following game-play the subjects again reported their craving levels.

The researchers found that about thirty percent of all the text prompts were responded to with reports containing levels of craving.

Sixty-six percent of those reported cravings were for food and non-alcoholic drinks.  Twenty-one percent were for various substances such as drugs, coffee, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages like wine and beer.  Sixteen percent of the craving response were for various activities such as hanging out with friends, playing video games or engaging in sexual activity.

The researchers, who outlined their findings in a paper published by the journal Addictive Behaviors, said that playing Tetris helped study participants decrease their craving levels for food, drugs and various activities from seventy percent down to fifty-six percent.

“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity, said Jackie Andrade, an author of the paper and a professor at the School of Psychology in a college release.

“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,” he said.

Playing Tetris on a smartphone (Plymouth University/Lloyd Russell)

Playing Tetris on a smartphone (Plymouth University/Lloyd Russell)

The researchers also said that they found the impact of Tetris game playing on craving was consistent with all types of cravings – food, drugs and activities – throughout the entire week long testing period.

“People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off, reported Jon May, a co-author of the paper and also a professor at Plymouth University. “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,” he added.

The researchers said that while their findings show that playing games such as Tetris could prove to be a useful tool for helping people control their cravings, further research and testing are needed, especially for those addicted to drugs.