Trying to Quit Smoking? Try Annoying Text Messages

New research finds that frequent annoying text messages can be a cost-effective way to help smokers quit, and suggests how technology may help change other unwanted behaviors as well.

Researchers led by a team from the University of Oregon studied 27 heavy smokers through two studies. The first experiment monitored three regions of their brains most involved in impulse control. Smokers were asked to describe their cravings, mood swings and smoking patterns. Their lungs and urine were examined for levels of addition, as well.

In a second test, the smokers’ ongoing cravings, mood and cigarette usage over a three-week period were monitored, as text messages essentially “nagged” them with eight check-ins a day.

The study, to be published this week in the academic journal Health Psychology, proved the researchers’ hypothesis that text messaging can be “a user-friendly and low-cost option for measuring real-time health behaviors.”

“Text messaging may be an ideal delivery mechanism for tailored interventions because it is low-cost, most people already possess the existing hardware and the messages can be delivered near-instantaneously into real world situations,” the researchers reported.

Scientists describe kicking an unwanted habit such as smoking as “a war that consists of a series of momentary self-control skirmishes.” In other words, getting several annoying text messages a day works.

Curbing other addictions, from alcoholism to over-eating, may benefit from text monitoring as well. Ultimately, the research offers additional proof that changing unwanted behavior requires some level of constant and critical support — be it from a professional, a strong social network or even through text messaging.

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