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Puzzle-Solving and Games Help Lower Nicotine Craving

First Posted: Apr 22, 2014 08:13 AM EDT

A new study suggests that engaging in self expanding activities like puzzle solving and games with ones partner helps lower nicotine craving.

The study, led by including Arthur Aron, PhD, a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, is the first of its kind to find that craving for nicotine can be reduced with simple and exciting self-expanding activities.

The conclusion of the neuroimaging study was based on the analysis of the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans that accurately measured brain activity by identifying the changes in the flow of blood.

In this study, the researchers analyzed the fMRI scanning of the nicotine deprived smokers who were involved in a series of two-player cooperative games with their partners during the time of scanning.

Participants were randomly given expanding and non-expanding activities. When compared to the non-exciting activities, the expanding games offered new choices and more targets.

 "Our study reveals for the first time using brain imaging that engaging in exciting or what we call 'self-expanding' activities, such as puzzle-solving, games, or hobbies with one's partner, appears to reduce craving for nicotine," said Dr. Aron. "The self-expansion activities yielded significantly greater activation in a major reward region of the brain, which is associated with addictive behaviors, than did non-expanding conditions. This suggests such activities may be a major new route to help people reduce the desire to smoke."

The fMRI scans revealed that participating in self expanding activities stimulates the same pathway in the brain that generally gets activates by nicotine, researchers said. The study authors also found that puzzles games act as a replacement for the reward the brain gets from nicotine.  

The team believes that future studies can concentrate on particular aspect of self expanding activities that will trigger the effect. They can also test the use of self-expansion activities in clinical interventions for smoking cessation.

The study was documented in PLOS One.

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