When science tells us to play video games, we'll darn well play video games. Apparently this time it's to help us with our cravings.
Researchers at Plymouth University have published a study in the journal Appetite that indicates playing visually stimulating games such as Tetris can reduce the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings.
The research team took a sample of 119 volunteers susceptible to natural cravings (previous studies have always artificially induced cravings in participants, limiting the validity of any findings) for food and drink, nicotine and caffeine. Half the sample played Tetris when they felt a spike in their yearnings, while the other half were told to load a computer program, fiendishly staring at a loading screen that would never finish loading.
All of the participants who stated they had a craving at the beginning of the test reported a fall in their cravings regardless of whether they were playing Tetris or watching the loading screen - but significantly for game lovers, participants who had played Tetris had significantly lower cravings.
This, according to the research paper abstract, indicates "a visuospatial working memory load reduces naturally occurring cravings, and that Tetris might be a useful task for tackling cravings outside the laboratory" - lending proof to the Elaborated Intrusion Theory that imagery is central to craving.
David Kavanagh, who has done similar research at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, helped explain this in simpler English for Reuters: "When we want something really badly, it is hard to think about anything else - and the experience is a very sensory one. It engages our imagination. That can be a real torture. But it also gives us a hint about how we can deal with cravings: If we can do something that engages the same brain functions, we can blunt the craving, and make it easier to resist the temptation."
So, next time you're itching for a cigarette or another cup of coffee, best try loading up a classic video game. All in the name of science, of course.