We at DFC have already reported on the many talents of the smartphone – from testing your stress, to becoming a high-powered microscope. Now there’s yet another service they can do to add to that list: helping to mitigate cravings for food, drugs, and other activities.
It has everything to do with what the subjects did (and most of do) on their smartphones: play games! Specifically Tetris, the finest Soviet-era puzzle game ever committed to pixels. Researchers from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia, have just reported on their experiment in the journal Addictive Behaviors. They rounded up 31 undergrads between the ages of 18 and 27, and had them self-report cravings they were experiencing (for things like food, sleep, cigarettes, coffee…) both when prompted by text messages and on their own. Half of the group then played Tetris on iPods for three minutes before reporting their levels of craving again.
The undergrads who played Tetris reported significantly decreased levels of craving than their co-subjects, to the tune of 50% to 76%. This marks the first time that “cognitive interference” has been proven an effective non-food craving management tool outside of a laboratory setting. How lead researcher Prof. Jackie Andrade postulates this works is very interesting:
“‘We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity. 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.’”
I’m sorry if you have a video-game obsessive in your life, because now they have science backing them up on the “At least I’m not doing [insert intoxicant here]!” front. Otherwise: how cool is it that we can manage our own pesky cravings by distracting ourselves for three measly minutes! In fact, I bet it doesn’t even have to be with Tetris – just something as visually imaginative, as Prof. Andrade says. Maybe a game of tennis… There. There’s your totally unscientific rejoinder to your hypothetical video game nut. You’re welcome!