Brain scans can predict a smoker's chances of being able to quit, according to a new study. It included 28 heavy smokers recruited from a smoking cessation program. Functional MRI was used to monitor the participants' brain activity as they watched television ads meant to help people quit smoking. The researchers contacted the participants one month later and found that they were smoking an average of five cigarettes a day, compared with an average of 21 a day at the start of the study.
But there was considerable variation in how successful individual participants were in reducing their smoking. The researchers found that a reaction in an area of the brain, called the medial prefrontal cortex, while watching the quit-smoking ads was linked to reductions in smoking during the month after the brain scan. Previous research by the same team suggested that activity in the prefrontal cortex is predictive of behavior change.
In the new study, published in the current issue of Health Psychology, "we targeted smokers who were already taking action to quit, and we found that neural activity can predict behavior change, above and beyond people's own assessment of how likely they are to succeed," study author Emily Falk, director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Department of Communication Studies, said in a university news release.