Customized health messages help quit smoking in 4 months, says study

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

LONDON - A new study has found that tailored health messages to those who smoke were more likely to kick the butt in four months.

Hannah Faye Chua at the University of Michigan and colleagues have also begins to uncover the underlying neural reasons why these individually tailored messages are so much more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Chua and the research team hypothesized that portions of the brain activated during self-related processing were also engaged when people received individually tailored health messages, and that this brain activity accounted for the increased effectiveness of tailored messages.

The team studied 91 people who wanted to stop smoking.

Next, researchers imaged subjects’ brains with MRI to see which portions responded to tailored and untailored messages about smoking cessation, and also to neutral messages.

They then compared the brain response to the brain response during a self-appraisal task in which participants, still in MRI, made yes-no judgments to self-related statements such as “I am shy” or “I am athletic.”

Several brain regions activated during the self-related task also appeared to activate during the tailored messages in the same group of smokers.

“The bottom line is that people who are more likely to activate self-related regions of the brain during tailored message processing, particularly dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, are more likely to quit 4 months after,” Chua said.

The findings have important implications for public health.

“The bigger picture of this is advertisers are increasing using functional MRI to test advertising,” said Vic Strecher, professor in the U-M SPH who worked on the project.

“If you can imagine that people who create fast food or who sell cigarettes are doing this in an effort to convey a stronger message, we really need to better understand the ways our health messages can be more effective.”

Chua added that some people had a stronger brain response than others to the tailored messages but it’s not clear why.

“However, the desire is not just motivation, because there was no difference in motivation between quitters and non-quitters,” Chua said.

“Over 50 percent is really a successful measure.”

The study appears on Feb. 27 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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