Emerging research suggests a smartphone app that helps people stop smoking reduces activity in a brain region typically stimulated when a person experiences a craving to smoke. The app uses a mindfulness-based approach and was effective at reducing study participants’ self-reported daily cigarette consumption.

Researchers found that those who reduced their cigarette consumption the most also showed decreased brain reactivity to smoking-related images.

The app includes daily videos and activities to help users identify their smoking triggers, become more aware of cravings and learn mindfulness methods to ride out the cravings.

The research team found that participants who used the app for a month reduced their self-reported daily cigarette consumption by a wide range, with an average drop of 11 cigarettes per day.

Researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of the participants as they looked at smoking-associated images or other images not associated with smoking. These scans were conducted before and after participants used the app. This procedure helped researchers determine how the app worked in the brain.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the changes in brain activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, a ping-pong-ball-sized brain region known to be activated when someone gets caught up in craving cigarettes, cocaine or even chocolate.

Researchers found that the participants who had the greatest reduction in number of cigarettes per day also showed a significant reduction in brain reactivity to smoking images.

They also noted that the correlation between number of cigarettes smoked and brain reactivity was particularly significant for women.

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