Study: Crushing cigarettes in virtual reality may reduce smokers’ nicotine dependency


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Destroying cigarettes in a virtual world may help smokers quit smoking. Credit: M. Spencer Green / Associated Press

Could exorcising your unhealthy habits in a virtual world mitigate your desire to engage in them in the real one? A recent study by the GRAP Occupational Psychology Clinic and the University of Quebec in Gatineau found that smokers who destroyed cigarettes in a virtual reality experienced a significant reduction in nicotine addiction.


A group of 91 smokers who were enrolled in a 12-week anti-smoking support group were split into two treatment groups. One group grasped computer-simulated balls and the other crushed computer-simulated cigarettes.

After 12 weeks, 15% of the participants who crushed virtual cigarettes stopped smoking, while only 2% of those who grasped virtual balls reported abstinence.

The participants were between 18 and 65 years old, with an average age of 44. They were in good general health, smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and had been smoking for an average of 27 years. They came to the clinic once a week for the first four weeks, then once every two weeks for the last eight weeks of the study.

After six months, the researchers called the participants, and 39% of the people who had crushed virtual cigarettes said they had not smoked in the last week, but only 20% of the people who had grasped virtual balls exercised the same restraint.

The researchers believe further studies must be conducted to explain their results, but they have hypothesized various explanations about self-efficacy, motivation and learning.

If destroying cigarettes in a virtual world could galvanize smokers to quit smoking, could throwing food and smashing alcohol bottles in virtual reality reduce obesity and alcoholism? It may not be so far fetched, at least according to this study.


-- Melissa Rohlin