Quit Smoking, Try New Activities

quit smokingIf you are trying to quit smoking, a new study suggests that you try new, exciting activities.[1] These self-expanding activities will help decrease the nicotine cravings experienced when you quit.1

Stony Brook University researchers, including Arthur Aron, PhD, based their study’s conclusions on a neuroimaging study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow.1 The researchers examined the scans, looking at the brains of nicotine-deprived smokers who participated in a series of two-player games with their relationship partners during the time of scanning.1

“Our study reveals for the first time, using brain imaging, that engaging in exciting, or what we call ‘self-expanding’ activities, such as puzzle-solving, games, or hobbies with one’s partner, appears to reduce craving for nicotine,” said Dr. Aron. “The self-expansion activities yielded significantly greater activation in a major reward region of the brain, which is associated with addictive behaviors, than did non-expanding conditions. This suggests such activities may be a major new route to help people reduce the desire to smoke.”1

Dr. Aron and lead author Xiaomeng Xu, PhD, explained that because engaging in self-expanding activities clearly stimulates the same pathways in the brain that are activated by nicotine, these activities could potentially substitute the reward the brain receives from nicotine itself.1

During the study, the researchers tested their theory using fMRI during cooperative game playing.1 The games were randomized between expanding and non-expanding activities.1 The study’s expanding games offered new choices and more targets for study participants and were significantly more exciting.1

Future research should focus on the specific aspects of the self-expanding activities that produce this effect.1 Research should also test the use of self-expansions activities in clinical interventions for smoking cessation.1

“In addition to the importance of this work for smoking cessation, this was also the first brain-imaging study to demonstrate the rewarding effects of doing specifically self-expanding activities with one’s romantic partner, an effect shown in many behavioral studies to be very beneficial to relationships, but now supported by brain research,” added Dr. Aron.1

[1] Stony Brook University. (2014, April 21). Want to Quit Smoking? New Study Says Try ‘Self-Expanding’ Activities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140421135536.htm

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