Researchers have long known that individually-tailored public health messages help people quit smoking, but a new study proves that it’s not just by coincidence: The University of Michigan study, led by Hannah Faye Chua, proves that tailored public health messages activate key parts of the brain, and may lead to higher success rates than many smoking cessation programs.
Chua’s research team developed personalized smoking cessation programs for 91 people, and used MRI scans to monitor their brain activity when exposed to tailored vs. untailored anti-smoking messages. Then, they monitored brain activity during a self-appraisal activity, in which they were asked to agree or disagree with statements like “I am shy,” or “I am athletic.” They found that the tailored anti-smoking activated the same parts of the brain that lit up during the self-appraisal activity, while the untailored messages didn’t.
The news is big for advertisers and public health planners, but it’s also good news for anyone who’s looking to quit smoking (or otherwise improve their health). Not only do tailored programs activate key parts of our brain; they actually work. While most smoking cessation programs have a 15 to 30% success rate, 50% of the subjects in the study were able to quit smoking after four months. So when you’re choosing a way to quit smoking, lose weight, or get fit, a personalized program is the way to go (and not just because it costs more than a one-size-fits-all book or video tape).