A weak willpower, the stumbling block of so many dieters and would-be ex smokers, may have been defeated by psychologists armed with a simple retro game.
According to a new study, playing the tile-matching puzzle Tetris for three minutes could cut cravings by almost a quarter.
The visual stimulation offered by the game provided an "essential boost for willpower," researchers claim.
Psychologists believe the effects of the popular tile-matching puzzle could give a “quick and manageable" fix for people struggling to stick to diets, or quit smoking or drinking.
“Episodes of craving normally only last a few minutes, during which time an individual is visualising what they want and the reward it will bring,” Professor Jackie Andrade said, who conducted the research with Jon May, from Plymouth University's Cognition Institute, and PhD student Jessica Skorka-Brown.
“Often those feelings result in the person giving in and consuming the very thing they are trying to resist. But by playing Tetris, just in short bursts, you are preventing your brain creating those enticing images and without them the craving fades.”
Participants in the study published in the journal ‘Appetite’ were asked to detail if and what they were craving, and to rate the cravings in terms of their strength, vividness and intrusiveness.
One group then played Tetris, while a second group was sat in front of a screen and told it was attempting to load, but ultimately not playing the game.
After just three minutes, the participants were again asked to rate their cravings.
Those who played Tetris experienced 24 per cent weaker cravings than those who did not.
Professor Andrade said the research tested elaborated intrusion theory, which dictates that imagery is central to craving and a visual task should therefore decrease it.
“Feeling in control is an important part of staying motivated, and playing Tetris can potentially help the individual to stay in control when cravings strike,” Professor Andrade added.
“It is something a person can quickly access for the most part whether they are at work or at home, and replaces the feeling of stress caused by the craving itself.
She added the game is a neutral activity that can have a positive impact.
Additional reporting by PAReuse content