The difficulty of quitting smoking varies from one person to another. In a research held in Pennsylvania State University that was published recently in the Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, the probable reason for this was explained.

Penn State Research

The research team included Stephen J. Wilson, who is an assistant psychology professor at Penn State. Researchers found that the striatum brain system (reward system) could predict how possible a smoker could give up the habit.

There were 18.1% of Americans 18 years and older have smoked cigarettes as of 2012. This was already reduced from 20.9% in 2005. The decline can somehow be attributed to the smoking cessation aids like NRTs such as nicotine gums, patches, lozenges and nasal sprays. NRTs are products that deliver nicotine to the body.

It is known that it is easier for some people to quit the habit than other smokers. In a 2011 report from US CDC, it was revealed that there were 52.4% of adult smokers who said that they have attempted quitting smoking in the past year, but only 6.2% of them successfully did so.

Responding To Monetary Rewards

There were 44 smokers who participated in the study. The response of smokers to financial rewards was measured through fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) imaging. Researchers have attempted to determine why some people find it so hard to give up the habit.

Researchers explained that the striatum could predict whether or not a smoker could successfully kick the habit. All of the participants 18-45 years old all reported that they smoked at least 10 cigarettes per day in the previous year.

The subjects were then asked to abstain from smoking and from using any products that contain nicotine within 12 hours before the experiment. Through fMRI, they observed that the activity in the striatum system while participants played card guessing game in order to give them a chance to win some money.

Striatum, Wilson said, is the brain area relevant to goal-directed and motivation behavior and its functions are very relevant to addiction. Each participant was asked to wait roughly 2 hours before the experiment concludes before they have cigarettes.

During the experiment, half of the participants were informed that a mistake has been made and that they could already smoke cigarette while the 50-minute break is on-going. These participants were told that for each 5 minutes that they try not to smoke, they will be given $1 so they could potentially earn $10 within the duration of 50 minutes.

According to the researchers, those who were able to refrain from smoking as a response to financial rewards were seen to have weaker striatum activity during the card guessing game when they were also offered monetary rewards.

Wilson said that they believe that their findings will help in shedding light to the mystery on why some smokers can easily quit while others cannot. He explained that potential sources of reinforcement in giving up smoking, like in the experiment is the prospect of saving money or improving their health could have less value to some individuals and therefore have less impact on behavior in smoking and in quitting smoking.

New strategies could be developed in helping smokers to quit through the help of the findings. The brain of a smoker could first be measured in terms of how it responds to rewards so that significant clinical and conceptual implications may be determined.

Smokers who are particularly at risk, for example, could be identified before any quit attempt. Assessment results will also help in identifying what special interventions could be administered for this smoker in order to increase quitting smoking success.