Scientists at Plymouth University have discovered a method for losing weight and quitting smoking – playing Tetris!
Researchers found that people who play Tetris for three minutes a day are less likely to crave food or cigarettes when they are making a concious decision to lose weight or quit smoking.
The research was led by PhD student Jessica Skorka-Brown with Professors Jackie Andrade and Jon May from the Cognition Insititute.
Plymouth University’s Cognition Institute published details of the research on their website: “Playing Tetris has potential to help beat negative cravings, study suggests”
Psychologists at Plymouth University explained that the visual stimulation provided by the game cuts cravings. The full paper can be found in the Appetite journal.
Professor Andrade said: “Episodes of craving normally only last a few minutes, during which time an individual is visualising what they want and the reward it will bring. Often those feelings result in the person giving in and consuming the very thing they are trying to resist. But by playing Tetris, just in short bursts, you are preventing your brain creating those enticing images and without them the craving fades.”
The research indicated that people playing Tetris had their cravings reduced by around 24 per cent. Professor Andrade went on to explain;
“Feeling in control is an important part of staying motivated, and playing Tetris can potentially help the individual to stay in control when cravings strike. It is something a person can quickly access, for the most part whether they are at work or at home, and replaces the feeling of stress caused by the craving itself. Ultimately, we are constantly looking for ways to stimulate cravings for healthy activities – such as exercise – but this a neutral activity that we have shown can have a positive impact.”
What is Tetris?
Tetris is a classic game first seen on games consoles in the 1980s and since on mobile phones. It was first created in 1984 but rose in popularity when it was released on the Game Boy in 1989, the first hand-held dedicated mobile games machine.
The game involves position falling shapes before the pile up and reach the ceiling. It is available on all mobile platforms, tablets, desktop and there are web versions.
It is unlikely that this is something unique to Tetris, many other games may provide the same effect. Other activities, such as reading a book or going for a walk may also be just as effective.
The research showed that imagery is linked to cravings so any game could work. We know that addicted gamers often fail to eat or drink for hours, or in extreme cases, days, when playing online games, but this idea that short bursts of playing games could help focus the mind to reduce cravings is an interesting development.
How it works is the next big question. Maybe a similar process in the brain is working as when we exercise, which dates back to the days humans hunted. Feeling hungry is a distraction and it should drive people to find food. But during the act of seeking food it is important not to be feeling hungry, so hunger reduces. This is why people who exercise a lot can developed “exercise induced anorexia” (a rare condition).
It may be that three minutes of exercise will provide a similar effect to curb appetite. Hopefully more on this area of research will be available soon.