Psychologists: Crush Your Smoking Habit with an App


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An game app created by psychologists says it can help users extinguish their smoking habits.

Called Nicot, the $4.99 app is the result of a study by the Canada Research Chair in Clinical Cyberpsychology and the University of Quebec in Outaouais.

Researchers there say they found that virtually crushing butts in the game boosted quitting success rates by 15%. If the would-be ex-smokers also used pharmacological aids (patches, gum and the like) and attended a  follow-up clinic, those rates were boosted to 50%.

Game players crush out the ciggies to get ahead in the game — rewarding them for this positive behavior, following the principles of Skinner’s operant conditioning.

To study the efficacy of the approach, 91 regular smokers were randomly assigned to two treatment conditions that differ only by the action performed in the virtual environment: crushing virtual cigarettes or grasping virtual balls.

The results? Crushing virtual cigarettes during four weekly sessions led to a statistically significant reduction in nicotine addiction, abstinence rate, and drop-out rate from the 12-week psychosocial minimal-support treatment program. (You can read more about the research, which was also published in international journal CyberPsychology and Behavior  here.)

What do you think — for a boost in 15% success rate would you be willing to play along?

  • Al

    Hmm, this research does not really prove much.

    Consider this: grasping “virtual balls” is hardly an adequate placebo. Did the participants really believe that grasping “virtual balls” would help their smoking habit? I doubt it. Would they not have rather left each “ball grasping” session wondering what the heck it was all about, and perhaps even that their time was being wasted? On the contrary, they may have received the “no-cebo” effect.

    So it is not a true placebo controlled trial at all. It may be that if they had given the control group a sugar tablet (of a fake “new revolutionary drug!”) then they would have seen little or no difference between that and the VR simulation of crushing cigarettes.

    This is typical of the majority of psychological research: shoddy and poorly thought out. I could go on to describe dozens and dozens other examples of poor, bad, and downright fraudulent “research” which is prevalent in the psychological community, but we’d be here all day.

    Sure, this idea MIGHT WORK. But this is hardly good evidence to support it.