More self-aware people quit smoking easier
February 27th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

More self-aware people quit smoking easier

How your brain responds to anti-smoking messages may be useful in helping to kick the habit, a new study in the journal Nature Neuroscience reports.

"People who are more likely to potentially see the messages as relevant to them, they are more likely to quit," said lead author Hannah Faye Chua of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "They could feel like, 'This is me, this is how I am right now, this is how I would like to change.'"

The study looked at 91 participants who were interested in quitting smoking, and who were smoking about 17 cigarettes a day on average. They answered questions about their health, demographic and habits and attitudes relevant to smoking and the reasons preventing them from quitting.

Researchers then used the answers to create tailored smoking cessation messages. These would target the individual's personal obstacles that make it harder to quit, as well as the person's sex and other life characteristics. The study authors exposed participants to the tailored messages as well as broader statements about smoking in general and "neutral" messages not related to smoking cessation.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of participants while being exposed to these messages revealed that, for the tailored messages, specific brain regions are particularly active. But it's activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a region associated with self-awareness - specifically, judgments and decisions about one's self - that best predicts who will quit.

All participants were given a nicotine patch and an individualized session on smoking cessation, with printed materials to take home.

Four months after the brain scan, those participants who had showed the most activity in this region while viewing tailored messages were most likely to quit. Those who quit reported being better able to avoid situations that trigger smoking, and cope with stress.

The study underscores the importance of tailoring treatments to the individual, said Dr. Bradley Peterson, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

It also points to the potential for brain imaging to be used more often to establish whether a patient will respond to a particular treatment, not only in smoking cessation but for other kinds of behaviors and conditions, he said.

"It’s an important study; it’s very cleverly done and executed," he said.

The sample size of 91 participants is considered large for an imaging study. Such experiments tend to be expensive, and since there were only two possible outcomes of the experiment (responding to treatment or not) this subject pool was appropriate for statistical analysis, Peterson said.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Treece

    So what they found is that a message is communicated more effectively if the individual receiving the message can connect it in a meaningful way to their personal experience. Eureka!

    I'm assuming this is yet another study from The Center for Proving Really Obvious Stuff and funded by the endless stream of Money for More Smoking Studies We Don't Need?

    Sheer madness, all of it.

    February 27, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Juliana

      I had a similar reaction initially – then I thought about how extraordinary it was that brain imaging was being brought to an entirely new level. Scientific experiments are never just about the specific finding that's reported. Each experiment has the potential, through the advancement of a new approach to inquiry for example, to transform a scientific field. Ten years ago, brain imaging could NEVER have pulled off something as sophisticated as this. The quote from Dr. Bradley Peterson is probably more exciting than the specific findings here. These experiments aren't a whole unto themselves, they build on the shoulders of others and they can become supports for something that moves us beyond a finding that apparently confirms common sense.

      February 28, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • qst

      Completely agree with you! We don't need studies that state the obvious! Someone who is aware of their body, health, or just things in life will do better is all aspects. If you are aware of the negative impact of smoking you are more likely to quit successfully.

      November 6, 2012 at 20:29 | Report abuse |
  2. J R Brown

    People who deliberately poison themselves really aren't very "self-aware" in the first place...just sayin'

    February 28, 2011 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SoundGuy

      I agree. When true self-awareness is achieved we realize harmony within and without, where polluting your own body is out of the question. That is why yogis don't smoke. Learn to develop the habit of self-awareness through meditation. A site called transcendentaltones offers help in the form of sound therapy. Sound can be very powerful to induce desired states of mind, or deep states of concentration.

      February 28, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
  3. Tahlequah Mom

    I quit June 28, 2010 cold turkey (2nd time in my life and hopefully the last time)... One of the hardest things about not smoking is all the ANTI-SMOKING commercials!!! They show people lighting up, inhaling deeply and darn it anyway, it makes me want to smoke!

    February 28, 2011 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. SAM

    How about to STOP DRINKING ALCOHOL,Taking Pills,And SMOKING DOPE ?

    February 28, 2011 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • followup

      You forgot another favorite – eating junk food or too much or the wrong type of food and sitting at a desk all day not getting exercise.

      February 28, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
    • Gretchen

      What is dope

      December 17, 2014 at 12:34 | Report abuse |
  5. SAM

    Do People that are AWARE Quit DRINIKNG BOOZE AND DOING pills and SMOKING DOPE ?

    February 28, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • daisy


      February 28, 2011 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
    • followup

      SAM, I agree. The mono-focus of this culture on one substance – tobacco is naive and backwards, but VERY persistent for whatever reason. I guess people are happy having a poster child (tobacco) for what not to do so that then the can kill themselves with almost anything else with a clean conscience.

      February 28, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
    • followup

      Sorry about the typos – I was in too much of a hurry.

      February 28, 2011 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
  6. Phil

    Embarrassingly, I've been a smoker for 23 years. I don't smoke in public, I don't smoke in my car, I don't smoke in my home, I don't smoke around pets, non-smokers or kids. It's something I picked up because both of my parents were smokers, nearly all the kids at school smoked – etc. It seemed like the natural thing to do.

    I've quit a few times using transdermal patches, once for 10 months. I started back up when I thought...what's ONE going to hurt? I can just put it out and be done with it. Wrong. My brain responded positively to the sudden introduction of nicotine and I found myself buying a pack on my way home from work. I would have quit this past December, but my brother had to go and shoot himself in the head in front of my parents...and that lead to stress and right back to cigarettes.

    Association with cigarettes, such as alcohol, coffee -whatever-, those are the hardest to overcome. When you're sipping on your coffee at anytime during the day you crave a cigarette. Thanks to the cigarette manufactures, quitting isn't easy. They should be the ones paying for a $50 box of nicotine patches. If they didn't put nicotine in cigarettes, quitting would be a little easier.

    February 28, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • followup

      Cigarettes are tobacco, and tobacco is nicoteen, so I doubt they could make cigarettes without nicoteen, or that people would get addicted to them without nicoteen. I also think that people who thing it's just about association with certain activities (like drinking coffee) are missing the point. It's an adition and they craving kicks just through the passage of time. There need not be any particular associated activity.

      February 28, 2011 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
    • dom625

      Why is it embarrassing? I'm assuming that you are a grown person, so you can do what you like (within the bounds of legality, of course). I'm a smoker, but I don't care who knows! I've smoked for 16 years. I smoke in my home, around my pets, even around non-smokers who come to visit. The way I see things, everyone needs to be thanking me (and you) for smoking, because look at all of the money we're contributing to the government!

      February 28, 2011 at 12:57 | Report abuse |
    • sumday

      @follow up, they might not be able to make nicotine free ciggerates, but adding nicotine to them is common practice. In the past 10 yrs the amount in ciggerates has gone up- while "fewer" people are chosing to start those who are already smoking don't stand much of a chance. Adding nicotine, a known addicitive and poision, should be illegal yet somehow the FDA doesn't seem to mind if they spray on a little extra nicotine to keep their users addicted- There is no excuse in this world why ciggerates are still illegal- If we will call a person a criminal and throw them in jail for growing or using pot (a substance that is not physically addicting or causes death) then tobacco should be treated the same. If a drug was proven to cause harm today the FDA would pull it- so answer me with all the proof we have on tobacco why is it still illegal, and why has the FDA refused to do their job on this matter? There is no difference in reality bt someone who smokes ciggs and someone who does another addicting drug. Just proves the government is not their to protect you only to cater to money.

      February 28, 2011 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • sumday

      opps mean *legal* not illegal

      February 28, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • followup

      @sumday, thanks for the information that tobacco companys add nicotine to cigarettes. I didn't know that. I also don't know how they can afford it judging from the price of nicotine tablets and gum. As for catering to the all might dollar, such seems to be the case with the taxes they rake in from tobacco sales as well. It's a slippery slope though as to which addictive substances should be legal or not. For some, alcohol is addictive, and it is associated with some forms of cancer and other maladies – and is a danger to others, for example, when driving or raising kids. Of course the contemporary verion of prohibition focuses on tobacco rather than alcohol. Where obesity is now the number 2 killer behind tobacco (and due to overtake it as more people quite smoking), it could be that certain bad foods people seem to be addicted to should be made illegal as well. Also, some of the drugs the drug companies sell are addictive and – according to their disclosures on TV adds – potentially worse than the aliment they're supposed to help with. As for pot, studies do not show it to be harmless either. In terms of harm to lungs, one joint has been found to cause as much irritation as almost a pack of cigarettes, and unlike cigarettes, and more like alcohol, pot does alter ones state of awareness. Nothing is straightforward it seems.

      February 28, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
    • GuyW

      I smoke all the time. If someone comes to my house and they don't like that I smoke they can wait outside until i'm done. Now, if kids are around then I will go outside. For no other reason do I care who I offend, if they do not like, then go elsewhere. Adults can easily remove themselves from the situation, whereas kids are impressionable and have fewer options when it comes to an adult smoking around them.

      February 28, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • Happy Nurse0402

      Alll adults have stress...both good stress and bad. Most adults do not use cigarrettes to handle it. Please remove stress from your list of excuses. It's an unacceptable reason to return to your addiction. Talk to your doctor if you are unable to use more healthy stress management techniques and get some medical help with it. All forms of tobacco are lethal cancer causers, and no, you can't have just one. It's like an alcoholic deluding himself that he can take "just one drink" and he will be all right. The idea is to admit you are an addict and stay away from the substance FOREVER. NOPE, Not One Puff Ever. Not even a drag, not even the end of an old cigarette butt. NOT ONE PUFF EVER. Make NOPE your mantra. Most people who quit actually do it cold turkey. Get more help at smokefree.gov.

      March 1, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
  7. Frank

    I quit smoking and I know I will never smoke again.

    February 28, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RoseMcB

    For anyone who has tried and tried to quit smoking and failed, I heartily recommend they try electronic cigarettes. My husband smoked for decades. When our son arrived, he was desperate to quite for good. Someone suggested the ecigs to at least get rid of the smoke and all the nasty household side effects. What a blessing! No more nasty smoke and smell, no more dirty ash trays, no more ruined paint and stinky clothing, etc. He started on the ecigs and from Day 1, never picked up another cigarette. After about 6 months on the ecigs, his use of even that dwindled to almost nothing. After a year... well, I haven't even seen his ecig in weeks. It was, by his own estimation, the most complete, comfortable and painless process of quitting he ever experienced. We are THRILLED!

    February 28, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. All in the mind

    I smoked for over 15 years and the day I woke up in a coughing fit was the day I decided to kick the habit. No drugs, no patches, needles, hypnosis, groups, nothing. The trick? I WANTED to quit. I didn't convince myself, tell myself it was for my family, friends, money, etc – I decided I WANTED to stop. Not that I needed to, I should, etc. That was the trick. Too many times we are trying to sell ourselves on the idea and we don't buy it. Add that to the media poisoning that convinces you that OMG – you CAN'T quit without patches, meds, hypnosis, support groups, cheering teams, planetary alignment and non smoking sponsers! You can't do it alone! You will lose! You'll never quit without our help. We rely too much on media to tell us what we are & aren't capable of doing. Friends were surprised that I needed nothing more than to make up my mind that i was done for good – not 'trying' to quit, not 'cutting down', nothing, done, finished. Years later one of my friends quit – and she told me she did the same thing – made up her mind that she didn't want them anymore – and she was done. It's that easy folks. It'll be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. The expectations we set for ourselves will always come true. I was ready for it to be difficult and assured myself that as hard as it was going to be – I would be harder. For whatever reason the hardest part was a few headaches from withdrawal and restlessness at night that was gone as quickly as it came. I was never white knuckled during the first few weeks. If I had known how easy it was I would have made better choices years ago. I'm not trying to sound like a know it all (far from it – I feel like a knucklehead for those 15 years) but it made me incredibly sensitive to what the media tries to sell you about yourself. Willpower doesn't make them any money.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • followup

      I think you have some valid input regarding wanting to quit versus trying to tell youself you need to quit while deep inside not wanting to. This may be helpful information for many. On the otherhand, everyone's different and may need different strategies. Some people can quit alcohol, for example, with much less problem than someone who is more addicted. It also seems some people are more addicted to cigarettes than others. This is not to say that you had a mild addiction or that your achievement was slight. I just don't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution here. Again, your statement that desire is important is helpful though.

      February 28, 2011 at 15:04 | Report abuse |
  10. MJB

    People can't afford a brain scan only their cigs.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • followup

      Good point – the cost of one medical test like a scan could equal what it costs to support a vice for many years! (Why do medical test cost that much, anyway, and is the radiation from them safe?).

      February 28, 2011 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
  11. Quitter

    I quit 11/10.. Started using chewing tobacco instead.. I traded one evil for the other.. I'm breathing better, not stinking all the time, and believe it or not my breath is much better. The "dip" washes out with some water and I get the nic I want. I'm not saying this is the right thing for everyone...I'm only sharing what has worked for me. The thing about it is I never thought I'd be able to quit smoking and I liked smoking more than I like chewing so my theory is I should be able to ween myself off the chew over the next few months. So far as of today I haven't had a chew since Friday night. After the chew I have a pack of Commit lozenges.. It still has 4mg of nicotine and provides the oral fixacation associated with cigs and nicotine...

    February 28, 2011 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Stop smoking during pregnancy

    There are numerous to give up smoking packages that claim that may help you give up smoking forever. It is not unusual that folks, that enroll in these types of applications, usually backslide straight into …Stop Smoking

    January 11, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. allofthepleasure

    I've been trying to quit smoking cigarettes forever, and everything I've tried just didn't cut it - chewing gum, a patch - nothing quite feels like the sensation of smoking. And then I heard of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, or e-cigs. You smoke them just like a real cigarette, only they produce vapor. And... you still get your nicotine fix. I was skeptical, so I did some research and found what I consider to be the best ecig on the market - V2 Cigs (http://www.v2cigs.com/4418-0-5-3.html). They offer 6 flavors: Cowboy, Congress, Menthol, Coffee, Cherry, and Vanilla - in various strengths: Full (18mg), Medium (12mg), Light (6mg), and Zero (0mg). They also have 2 new flavors coming out that I can't wait to try: Chocolate and Peppermint!
    I was impressed by their website, and decided to try out online chat service. They are great. I think more than anything, I liked their design, and from found that the V2 Cigs produced a lot of vapor, gave me a nice hit, and didn't leak liquid all over my lips. So far, I've been 2 months without an actual cigarette, down from nearly a pack a day!

    Link here to learn more:
    http://www.v2cigs.com/4418-0-5-3.html. Hope it helps

    April 6, 2012 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. vapourbase

    Nice post. Many individuals continue to smoke knowing dangerous conditions, because they believe that smoking has benefits like stress and anxiety relief, pleasure, or weight maintenance even though smoking is addictive, expensive, and harmful. Stop smoking to be healthier. Electronic Cigarette

    August 1, 2013 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Rob Jarboe

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    June 29, 2015 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply

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