Saturday, August 29, 2015


Meditation can decrease a person’s desire to smoke without them even realising.

Texas Tech University (TTU) and University of Oregon researchers conducted a study involving 60 students, around half of whom smoked, and enrolled them into relaxation classes.

Half the group did muscle relaxation exercises while the other half were taught mindfulness meditation.

After two weeks, the smokers who had practised mindfulness meditation had reduced their puffing and inhaling habits by two-thirds. Not only that but they were also unaware they had.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr Yi-Yuan Tang [pictured left], a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and Presidential Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at TTU, when the students were asked if they had smoked less they replied in the negative. However, tests were carried out on the amount of carbon dioxide in the students’ lungs; the tests revealed a 60 per cent reduction in smoking two weeks after the study.

‘The students changed their smoking behaviour but were not aware of it,’ Tang said. ‘When we showed the data to a participant who said they had smoked 20 cigarettes, this person checked their pocket immediately and was shocked to find 10 left.

‘We then measured intention to see if it correlated with smoking changes and found there was no correlation.

‘But if you improve the self-control network in the brain and moderate stress-reactivity, then it’s possible to reduce smoking.’

The study authors state that recent neuroimaging studies have shown that smokers have less activity in the brain regions associated with self-control, raising questions around whether targeting these neurobiological circuits could be a way to treat addiction.

The study is interesting, to say the least. I have always taken the view that the key to breaking any addiction is desire or ‘want-power’. This study does not directly challenge that thesis but suggests perhaps that desire may be explicit or implicit, and that the latter may be associated with improvements in the self-control network of the brain.

Study: Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael I Posner , Mary K Rothbart , and Nora D Volkow. ‘Circuitry of self-control and its role in reducing addiction.’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2015, Vol. 19, No. 8. DOI:


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