Anti-smoking ads motivate brain to quit tobacco: Study

NIMHANS study supports the need for continuing mass media campaigns to tackle growing tobacco consumption

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 21 May 2019
Anti-smoking ads trigger thoughts to quit tobacco: Study. Photo: Getty Images

Graphical content on anti-tobacco advertisements have a positive impact on smokers’ brain and trigger a thought process to quit, according to a study.

In a new study, published in The Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) evaluated the effects of anti-smoking ads on smokers.

Unlike most studies that use only behavioural approach to measure the effect of anti-smoking ads on an individual’s motivation to quit, the research gathered data of the electrical activity of the brain when exposed to anti-tobacco ads. It also included non-smokers for comparison.

A group of 20 persons from the local community were included in the study. They were categorised into smokers and non-smokers based on their responses to a test known as Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence (FTND). The test is designed to seek information such as number of cigarettes smoked, frequency, smoking time preferences, tendency to smoke in prohibited areas and during illness, relating them with scores.

The non-smokers scored zero on FTND, while the score of smokers ranged between three and seven, indicating a mild to moderate dependency on nicotine.

After this, non-smokers underwent an assessment of the brain’s electrical activity while the smokers were subjected to pre and post behavioural valuation called ‘Assessment of Motivation’. For this, a psychological tool called ‘Readiness to Quit Ladder Scale’ was employed.

“This ladder-type questionnaire consists of statements based on some thoughts smokers have about quitting the habit, with corresponding scores increasing from one to 10. The particular response indicates the subject’s current readiness to give up tobacco use. On this scale, a score of 1 shows unwillingness to quit, whereas a 10 implies readiness to quit smoking,”explained Rajnish Kumar Gupta, a post-doctoral student and team member, while speaking to India Science Wire.

Then, the smokers underwent Electroencephalograph (EEG) which records the electrical activity of the brain and is seen in four frequency bands: delta, theta, alpha and beta, each corresponding to the mental state of the individual.

The EEG recordings were done for nine minutes under three conditions: resting state, while watching a neutral video and while watching the anti-tobacco video clip showing strong visual content and ill-effects of smoking. A one-minute distraction activity was carried out in between the three conditions to avoid overlap of responses.

For each condition, an independent sample test was conducted between the groups.  For the resting and neutral video conditions, no significant difference was observed among the groups. In the smokers’ group, the EEG spectral data showed an increased theta activity and a decreased alpha, in the frontoparietal regions — which are brain centres involved in processing visual and sensory information, impulse control, judgement and initiation.

“High theta is indicative of the condition that leads to complex inward thinking — in this case, about the smoking behaviour — and thereby causing a mental stress state as reflected in the low alpha power,” explained Jamuna Rajeshwaran, professor and head of department of clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience.

The EEG data of the non-smokers group showed no significant difference between various conditions indicating a lack of personal association to the situation.

Although the study had a small sample size, the researchers feel that it provides evidence that supports the need for continuing mass media-based anti-smoking campaigns to tackle the growing tobacco consumption. (India Science Wire)

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