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Smokers' Brains Less Reactive to Bad Images of Smoking

Update Date: Mar 10, 2014 06:58 PM EDT

The brains of smokers are biased against negative images of smoking, according to a new study.

Canadian researchers at the University of Montreal found that chronic smokers have altered emotional reactions when they are exposed to negative and positive images associated to tobacco.

"We observed a bias depending on how smoking is portrayed," researcher Le-Anh Dinh-Williams, a student at the Centre de recherche de l'Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and the study's first author, said in a news release.

"For example, the brains of the smokers in our study were more aroused by images that showed smoking in a positive light than by images that encouraged them to stop. They were also more affected by aversive non-smoking related images than by images of the specific negative consequences of smoking," she added.

Researchers wanted to understand why a fifth of adults in the United States and Canada still smoke when they know its effects on health.

"We wanted to understand why knowing about the negative health impacts of tobacco does not prevent smokers from lighting up," explained Dinh-Williams.

Researchers explained that around 70 percent to 95 percent of smokers who quit will start smoking against within one year.

"Many factors make it difficult for people to quit. Part of the explanation could certainly be because cigarettes 'trick' the brains of smokers," stated Stéphane Potvin, a co-author of the study and researcher at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Université de Montréal. "Specifically, we discovered that the brain regions associated with motivation are more active in smokers when they see pleasurable images associated with cigarettes and less active when smokers are confronted with the negative effects of smoking."

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