The never-ending falling blocks of Tetris have caused innumerable people untold amounts of frustration. YouTube star Hank Green even has a song memorializing the evil of “The Man Who Throws The Tetris Piece.” But a new study published in Appetite shows that the unwinnable game may be good for something other than wasting hours, days, lives—reducing cravings.
The Plymouth University researchers—graduate student Jessica Skorka-Brown and professors Jackie Andrade and Jon May—tested Elaborated Intrusion Theory, which says that cravings rely heavily on visual imagery. They write that this is the first test of that theory using naturally-occurring cravings. To capture the 119 participants’ natural cravings (rather than artificially inducing them in the lab by having them evaluate chocolates or something), asked them when they came in for the experiment if they were currently craving something, and to rate their craving from 1 to 100. Participants completed the Craving Experience Questionnaire, which measured the “strength, imagery, vividness, and intrusiveness of their current craving.”
Then participants sat down in front of a computer, which either loaded Tetris for them to play, or looked like it was going to load Tetris but never actually did. They either played Tetris, or didn’t, for three minutes and then answered the same questions about their craving, describing what happened to the craving while they were playing the game (or, you know, sitting there).
Of the 119 people that participated, 80 reported craving something: 58 people wanted food or drink of some kind, 10 wanted caffeine, and 12 wanted nicotine. Their mean craving levels were “reasonably high,” the researchers write. Playing Tetris reduced their cravings by about 24 percent. The relationship between playing the game and craving reduction remained statistically significant, even when the researchers accounted for a general lessening of the craving over time, or removed the people who were only slightly craving something.