The reason for the lower cravings, said Skorka-Brown and her colleagues, is that Tetris is a fast-moving visual game that requires attention to shapes and positions. That distracts the part of the brain that produces imagery of the thing you crave and therefore makes it harder to crave. It's an aspect of the game that anyone can test.
“Next time you play Tetris, try to visualize a friend's face,” said Andrade. It's not easy to do without your game suffering.”
“We also know that craving interferes with other tasks -- it grabs our attention, and our ability to think about other things at the same time,” Kavanagh said.
“This is because we have a limited capacity in our brains to hold things in attention and work on them.” Thinking about a pyramid, for example, and rolling it around in imaginary space requires us to hold the shape in our attention and work on how it would look as it moves.
“What this and some other recent studies do, is flip this around,” Kavanagh explained. “If craving interferes with other tasks, what about using other tasks to interfere with craving? And if craving is linked to imagery, what about using another task that requires similar limited cognitive space -- like this game."
The game also has another quality that makes it particularly useful in distracting cravers, said Andrade: It's fun. That makes it far more likely to be used than trying to play with an imaginary pyramid in your mind's eye.
Kavanagh also stressed the importance of testing the technique on cravings that were not intentionally created in the lab, as has been done in previous studies.
“This study is important, in that it uses desires that are just naturally occurring, and shows that the idea still works,” he said.