Games help break bad habits
Bad habits form around rewards; nobody craves a pack of cigarettes or a pint of ice cream because they hate the way nicotine or sugar makes them feel. But while your local pharmacy offers a whole suite of products designed to curb physical cravings, staving off mental cravings is often on you. One proven solution: play a game. A 2014 study conducted jointly by Brown University, the American Cancer Society and Stony Brook University found that smokers deprived of nicotine could reduce their cravings simply by playing two-player games or solving puzzles with their romantic partners. Why does this work? According to MRI scans of the participating couples’ brains, cooperative play and puzzle solving activated the exact same reward centers as nicotine does. Many games—especially the casual variety you are likely to find in your app store of choice—are designed to offer persistent rewards for completing challenges (think of the satisfying visual and sound effects when you obliterate a row of tiles in Candy Crush). So, the next time you feel a craving: reward yourself with a game first. Here are more mental tricks to quit smoking and science-backed tips to stop food cravings.
Games reduce pain
Haters may dismiss video games as an “escape” from the challenges of real life but, for many gamers, a more accurate word might be “relief.” In one experiment at the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, patients undergoing treatment for severe burns were given virtual reality headsets to play a game called Snow World, allowing them to explore an immersive 3-D landscape of hidden ice caves, jolly snowmen, and a pleasant dusting of snowflakes even as caregivers provided painful wound treatments. Patients who played Snow World reported being able to ignore their pain a whopping 92 percent of the time, while those who didn’t typically spent 100 percent of treatment thinking about their own suffering. What’s more, Snow World patients felt an average of 30 to 50 percent total pain reduction, providing an even greater relief than morphine. Why does this work? Scientists point to the “spotlight theory of attention,” suggesting that our brains work like a spotlight able to focus on a limited amount of information at a time. When our cognitive resources are focused on a mentally-demanding game (say, Candy Crush or Temple Run on your phone), we have less attention to give external stimuli like smells, sounds, and even pain. Here are 7 things you do that make pain feel worse.