Washington: A pair of related studies on smoking cessation have isolated the brain regions most active in controlling urges to smoke and demonstrated the effectiveness of text-messaging to measure and intervene in those urges.
Both projects by scientists at the University of Oregon and other institutions used the same group of test subjects – 27 heavy smokers recruited from the American Lung Association``s Freedom From Smoking program in Los Angeles.
Elliot Berkman, professor of psychology at the UO, and colleagues Emily Falk at the University of Michigan and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the first study to map areas of the brain in which impulse control battles are fought.
They described kicking an unwanted habit such as smoking as ‘a war that consists of a series of momentary self-control skirmishes.’
Their paper -- published online this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science -- indicates that individuals`` abilities to inhibit their responses to cravings can be predicted through fMRI testing. That means it may be possible to tailor smoking cessation programs to individuals`` response-inhibition capacities.
"We are really excited about this result because it means that the brain activation we see in the scanner is predictive of real-world outcomes across a much longer time span that we thought," Berkman said.
"The tasks that we use in the laboratory are simplified models of these real-world processes -- but they seem to be valid models."
The second study -- also by Berkman, Falk and Lieberman, along with Janna Dickenson of UCLA and posted online in advance of publication in the journal Health Psychology -- tested short message service (SMS) text messaging "as a user-friendly and low-cost option for ecologically measuring real-time health behaviors."
Research participants were prompted by eight text messages per day for three weeks to document their ongoing cravings, mood and cigarette use.
The research showed that text messaging is at least as effective as more expensive and harder-to-use handheld data collection devices in the "brief interval assessment" of people in smoking cessation programs.
"Text messaging may be an ideal delivery mechanism for tailored interventions because it is low-cost, most people already possess the existing hardware and the messages can be delivered near-instantaneously into real world situations," said the study, which is scheduled to appear this week in Health Psychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association.