Although it was long believed that the ability to quit smoking is a test of willpower a new research published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology indicates that persons who manage to quit smoking may be hardwired for success.
The study performed by researchers from the Duke University was conducted on 85 smokers. The participants underwent MRI scans of their brains before they stopped smoking, one month before they gave up cigarettes. The participants were followed for 10 weeks.
41 of the participants started smoking again. The researchers found out that in the case of the participants who were able to give up smoking the connectivity among particular brain areas was stronger. Namely the increased level of connectivity was between the insula – the region of the brain responsible for urges and cravings and the somatosensory cortex which has an important role in motor control and sense of touch.
Dr. Merideth Addicott, assistant professor of the Duke University explained that the insula sends messages to other parts of the brain which choose whether to pick up the cigarette or not. The insula is attributed to the tobacco craving a smoker experiences. Proof has showed that individuals who smoke and have suffered damage to the insula can suddenly lose interest in smoking.
Joseph McClernon, associate professor of the same university, said that experts have generally agreed on the fact that the insula is the essential factor when it comes to smoking and it should be specifically modulated. However, he remarked:
“But in what ways do we modulate it, and in whom? Our data provides some evidence on both of those fronts, and suggests that targeting connectivity between insula and somatosensory cortex could be a good strategy.”
He also explained that the research team would further analyze treatments which control brain activity and can helpful in smoking cessation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation and neurofeedback are two types of such treatments which are used at present in order to improve depressive symptoms. CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that seven out of ten adult smokers claim that they want to quit this habit.
According to McClernon this current study has provided a blueprint, but further research needs to be conducted in order to discover what exactly lies behind the stronger connectivity that increases the chances of success. If researchers manage to find out more about this they could increase the connectivity in the case of smokers who have a difficult time giving up.
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