Anyone who’s ever tried to quit sugar only to be confronted with a plate of cupcakes in the office break room knows that cravings are powerful. Sometimes even irresistible, we hear (as we lick chocolate frosting off our lips). But it turns out there may be a very simple solution to resisting our urges, sugar-laden and others—and it takes just three minutes.
The cure for cravings? A three-minute game of Tetris, according to research recently published in the journal Addictive Behaviors. And it can help with cravings beyond just the cupcake variety—for the study, scientists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia looked at cravings for food, drink, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sex, exercise and gaming. Seven times a day, 31 undergraduate participants were prompted via SMS message to report their craving target, the strength of the craving, whether they indulged their previous craving, and whether they were under the influence of alcohol. Then, 15 of the participants (those in the “intervention” condition) were prompted to play Tetris for three minute before again reporting on their craving.
Not only did the researchers find that playing Tetris decreased cravings by 13.9 percent, the game’s benefits didn’t diminish over the course of week—promising evidence that it’s not the novelty of the intervention that helped participants reduce cravings. So why Tetris? Turns out, it’s hard to fantasize about a cupcake in vivid detail when your brain is busy with something equally captivating.
“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” Professor Jackie Andrade from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University said in Science Daily. “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.”
Other visually interesting games may have the same benefit, so if Tetris isn’t your thing, I’ll be waiting for you to join me for a game of Draw Something.