Playing Tetris May Reduce Cravings For Food and Drugs

Professor Jackie Andrade PhD School of Psychology Cognition Institute Plymouth University Plymouth Australia Interview with:
Professor Jackie Andrade PhD
School of Psychology
Cognition Institute
Plymouth University
Plymouth Australia


Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Andrade: We want to understand the mental processes that are going on during episodes of craving for drugs or food. We know that cravings are largely mental events because people rarely experience them when in the middle of a mentally-engaging task – giving a presentation or finishing an exciting novel, for example. By understanding the mental processes underpinning cravings, we can improve treatments for addiction and eating problems, and also find ways of strengthening desires for healthy activities. Visual mental imagery is a key component of craving, with people picturing themselves indulging their desires. Laboratory research has shown that blocking this craving imagery can reduce the strength of cravings for food and cigarettes. Tetris is a good task for doing this because it involves a lot of visual processing to keep track of the different coloured shapes and mentally rotate them to fit the spaces. For our latest study, we wanted to find out if Tetris helped block cravings in ‘real life’ rather than in the laboratory, and whether it worked for a range of common cravings.

We asked 31 participants to carry iPods with them for a week. They received text messages 7 times a day prompting them to use the iPod to report whether they were craving something and, if so, what it was and how strong the craving was. A random 15 participants assigned to the Tetris condition were also asked to play Tetris for 3 minutes and answer the craving questions again. For this group, we compared the before-Tetris and after-Tetris craving scores on each occasion and found that cravings were 20% weaker after playing Tetris. People played Tetris 40 times on average, but the craving-reducing effect did not wear off as they got used to the game. The control group who reported cravings without playing Tetris allowed us to see how cravings varied naturally across the week. Tetris reduced craving strength across the range of cravings reported, which included cravings for drugs (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine), food, and ‘other activities’ including sleep, videogaming, sex and social interaction.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Andrade: The study shows that games like Tetris could be useful tools for reducing the strength of cravings to the point where they can be tolerated. Cravings can feel so intense they are unbearable, but even when people are trying to quit an addiction, episodes of craving tend only to last for minutes. If they can be tolerated for that time, that’s another step towards successful abstinence. The more someone beats a craving, the more confident they should feel that they can manage future cravings and stick to their goal.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Andrade: Future research should test the impact in clinical populations – people with substance dependence for example – of incorporating craving-management tools like brief games of Tetris into addiction treatments.


Jessica Skorka-Brown, Jackie Andrade, Ben Whalley, Jon May. Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings.Addictive Behaviors, 2015; 51: 165 DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.07.020

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Professor Jackie Andrade PhD (2015). Playing Tetris May Reduce Cravings For Food and Drugs

Last Updated on August 18, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD