Pass The Doritos, Scientists Develop Computer Game That Could Help Gamers Lose Weight

Psychologists at the University of Exeter and Cardiff University have published a study that demonstrates how a simple computer game can help people lose weight. Participants in the study who played the specialized game lost and average of 1.5 pounds in the first seven days, and 4.5 pounds after six months. They also reduced their daily caloric consumption by 220 calories.

Dr. Natalia Lawrence led the team of researchers that developed the computer game for the study. It was designed to train people to resist unhealthy food snack foods through a "stop versus go" process. Participants sat in front of a Pentium 3 PC running Matlab software on a 17-inch monitor. They were then instructed to press certain keys when images of things like fruits and clothes would appear, indicating a "go." But for images of calorie-dense foods -- chips and cake, for example -- they were instructed not to do anything, indicating a "stop" action.

Junk Food

Another group of participants were instructed to input keystrokes for all images. They didn't show any weight loss like the other group did.

"These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerized tool can change people’s everyday eating behavior. It is exciting to see the effects of our lab studies translate to the real world," Dr. Lawrence said in a statement. "This research is still in its infancy and the effects are modest. Larger, registered trials with longer-term measures need to be conducted. However, our findings suggest that this cognitive training approach is worth pursuing: It is free, easy to do and 88 percent of our participants said they would be happy to keep doing it and would recommend it to a friend. This opens up exciting possibilities for new behavior change interventions based on underlying psychological processes."

The researchers are quick to note that this study shouldn't be seen as a weight loss cure, nor does it work for everyone. They also warned against making any conclusions about long-lasting changes in weight and eating behavior. Disclaimers aside, the researchers say the study clearly shows short term benefits and suggests that this kind of training might be suitable as a complementary addition to existing weight loss programs.

Tags:  Gaming, Health, game
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