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Forget cold turkey — play Tetris to reduce cigarette cravings

It’s a win-win situation, really. Play Tetris, reduce your cigarette cravings. At least, this is the conclusion reached by researchers at Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who found that people who played the classic game reported reduced desires for drugs, food, and even sex. Apparently, to stop one addiction, you just have to pick up another. In their study, published in Addictive Behaviors, the scientists found that “Playing Tetris weakened cravings in natural settings,” and that these effects were “consistent over a week.” So if your boss gives you a dirty look for playing the game, just have them weigh the options — it’s Tetris or a smoke break.

In conducting their experiment, researchers asked a group of students to note whenever they felt a craving and how strong it was, regardless of its nature (nicotine, food, etc.). Half of them were then given an iPad upon which to play a game (or two or three) of Tetris, whereas the other half were allowed to just pine away with their desires. Fifteen minutes later, the researchers checked back in, and found that those engaged in the game reported that their cravings were 20 percent less strong than those who were not playing.

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According to scientists, this considerable reduction is thanks to the fact that the same mental processes involved in playing Tetris are also present in controlling and satisfying cravings. As Professor Jackie Andrade of Plymouth University said, “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.”

While the sample population involved in the study was small — only 31 students between the ages of 18 and 27 — psychologists are still excited by the results. Said Andrade, “This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating.”

Best of all, it doesn’t even have to be Tetris. Play Candy Crush, for all Andrade cares — the only stipulation is that it has to be “visually interesting and changing.” So the next time you find yourself reaching for that fifth cookie you know you shouldn’t have, reach for your phone instead, and get ready to stack some blocks.