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Mindfulness May Cut Cravings by Loading Working Memory

February 14, 2018
Katy Tapper

Mindfulness interventions may be effective in interrupting cravings for food, cigarettes, and alcohol by occupying short-term memory, according to a review published in Clinical Psychology Review.

“The research suggests that certain mindfulness-based strategies may help prevent or interrupt cravings by occupying a part of our mind that contributes to the development of cravings,” said author Katy Tapper, PhD, senior lecturer in the psychology department at City, University of London. “Whether mindfulness strategies are more effective than alternative strategies, such as engaging in visual imagery, has yet to be established.”

Dr. Tapper reviewed 30 experimental studies to gauge how mindfulness strategies may influence craving-related outcomes. Mindfulness interventions include exercises that promote heightened awareness of bodily sensations, acceptance of uncomfortable feelings, or a perception of oneself as separate from one’s emotions and thoughts.

Brief Mindfulness Lesson Cuts Heavy Drinking

The researcher found that mindfulness strategies may succeed in blocking cravings by loading working memory. Working memory is a part of short-term memory that focuses on immediate and conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. 

Over time, she reported, mindfulness may reduce cravings through “extinction processes”—strategies in which a person inhibits responses and behaviors linked with cravings, which eventually reduces those cravings.

“There is also some evidence to suggest that engaging in regular mindfulness practice may reduce the extent to which people feel the need to react to their cravings,” she said, “though further research is needed to confirm such an effect.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Tapper K. Mindfulness and craving: effects and mechanisms. Clinical Psychology Review. 2018;59:101-117.

Mindfulness may help reduce cravings for food and drugs, says review [press release]. London, England: City, University of London; January 30, 2018.

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