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The Tetris effect: could gaming cure cigarette cravings?

The Tetris effect: could gaming cure cigarette cravings?

It was a favourite game of the 80s and is still popular today, but now it seems that the computer game Tetris isn't just good for passing the time - it can also reducing cravings. New research has found that the tile matching game can help stop the urge to smoke.

Psychologists from Plymouth University asked a group of students to document whenever they felt a craving and state how strong it was, before reporting back again 15 minutes later. While half were left to their own devices in the time between the two checks, the other half were given an iPad with the block-busting game on it to play for a quarter of an hour.

The gamers' cravings were found to have dropped by a fifth compared to those who hadn't played Tetris.

The researchers believe the game works because it uses the same mental processes as the part of the brain that fantasises about fulfilling the craving.

"This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating," said Professor Jackie Andrade of Plymouth University. "We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance. 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."

The team conducted the week long experiment focusing on 31 undergraduates, aged between 18 and 27. The study also saw input from Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

"The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types. People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off," Professor Jon May, also of Plymouth University added. "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."

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