Text messaging to help smokers quit: Does personalization matter?

This is a guest post by Krista DeStasio about her recent paper, published in the Journal of Smoking Cessation.

Changing habits and behaviors is hard. We can all think of a time that we set a goal – cutting down on sweets, for example – and didn’t stick with it despite our best intentions. Quitting smoking is such a goal for many people. Specialized quitting programs can increase success, but those programs are not accessible to everyone. However, it is now possible to help people via text message regardless of where they live and how much money they make because of the ubiquity of cell phones. Research shows that delivering cessation support via text messaging is effective for a variety of goals: quitting smoking, adherence to HIV treatment, and diabetes management, to name a few. Some studies tailor the messages to the participant, such as by providing gender-specific health information to pregnant women trying to quit smoking. Social psychology indicates that personally relevant information is given special attention and remembered better than information that the person doesn’t find self-relevant, suggesting that tailored cessation messages may be even more effective than standard treatment messages.

My colleagues, Anne Hill and Elliot Berkman, and I conducted a study to find out whether highly self-relevant messages would help people quit smoking more than generic or only moderately self-relevant ones. We reasoned that the self-authored messages may be more helpful than more generic, expert-authored messages, since they would be uniquely relevant to the person receiving them. In our study, all participants wrote text-length messages that they thought would be helpful to them during their quit attempt. A third of participants were additionally instructed to write those messages in the form of “if-then” statements, such as “If I feel like I need a cigarette, then I will chew gum instead.” This format, known as implementation intentions has been found to increase the likelihood of obtaining long-term goals. The other participants were not given instruction about message format. Participants then received either their own self-authored messages or standard treatment messages every day for a month. This gave us three groups in the study: people who received their own “if-then” messages and received those messages, people who received their own messages without detailed instruction, and people who wrote their own messages but received generic messages. Everyone received six text messages per day.

Interestingly, everyone in the study decreased their smoking. There was some indication that the if-then messages were better than the controls, but they weren’t significantly different than the other tailored messages. At least in this study, the level of self-relevance of the received messages didn’t make a huge difference in how effective the text messaging intervention was. However, all participants composed their own messages, so it is possible that the extra effort the participants put in to write the messages made a difference, even if they didn’t receive those messages during cessation. Our next studies will test this, as well as the possibility that receiving messages that are personalized but not self-authored would be just as effective for quitting as actual self-authorship.

Full citation info:

DeStasio, K.L., Hill, A.P., & Berkman, E.T. (in press) Efficacy of an SMS-based smoking intervention using message self-authorship: A pilot study. Journal of Smoking Cessation. [pdf]

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Calcott wins APA award!

Good news! Graduate student Rebecca Calcott has been awarded a Dissertation Research Award from the American Psychological Association to support her project, “Cognitive Control: A Bridge Between Neurotransmitters and Real-World Behavior.” Congratulations, Rebecca!

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How mindfulness changes parenting

Here is a guest post by Lisa May about her recent paper, published in the journal Mindfulness.

Relationship between parents and their adolescent children are notoriously rocky. Nonetheless, research shows that a warm, caring parent-child bond can protect kids from problems during adolescence such as substance abuse, depression, and delinquency. That’s why it’s important to understand how parents can strengthen their relationships with their teenage kids. In this study, we tested whether mindfulness training might help. Parents and their early adolescent children (ages 9-13) attended an eight-week course together. In contrast to a traditional parenting class, parents and kids in our study learned mindfulness exercises that were designed to help them be present, kind, and open in their moment-to-moment experience. Parents and kids each answered questions about their lives and relationships before and after the eight-week course, and we measured parents’ brain activity before and after the course, too. This allowed us to look at how the mindfulness training affected parents’ brain activity, the parent-child relationship, and the connections between the two. Parent brain activity increased in areas related to self-awareness and emotion. Increases in parents’ brain activity in an area involved in empathy and emotion tracked with increases in their children’s reports of the parent–child relationship. In other words, the kids of parents whose brain activity changed the most in this empathy/emotion area felt the most improvement in their relationship with their parents. Based on this, we believe that parent empathy and emotion might be particularly important in parent-child relationships during adolescence. Mindfulness training might help parents be more empathetic with their adolescent kids.

Full citation info:

May, L. M., Reinka, M. A., Tipsord, J. M., Felver, J. C., & Berkman, E. T. (in press). Parenting an early adolescent: A pilot study examining neural and relationship quality changes of a mindfulness intervention. Mindfulness. [pdf]

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Hear Elliot on Self-control and Poverty on The Academic Minute

Listen to Elliot discuss his blog post about the effect of poverty on self-control over at The Academic Minute.

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Center for Translational Neuroscience Launches!

We are proud to announce the formation of the new Center for Translational Neuroscience within the Prevention Science Institute at the UO. Check out the mission statement:

The mission of the CTN is to translate knowledge from basic neuroscience and apply it to improve well-being, promote resilience, and mitigate the effects of early adverse experiences. Activities at the CTN address scientific issues of social importance with the goal of informing policy and practice. Core focal areas include, but are not limited to, poverty and maltreatment and their effects on addiction and mental health disorders. CTN takes a lifespan development approach to understand how specific brain and biological systems are affected by genetic and environmental influences. The knowledge obtained from this work is deployed in the development of evidence-based practices and science-informed public policy. An emphasis is placed on using experimental designs to help understand mechanisms and individual differences in response to interventions. The CTN employs successive iterations of neuroscience research, theory building, and practice to drive the scientific knowledge base forward. The CTN interfaces with other Centers and departments at the UO, including the Lewis Center for Neuroimaging, in the fulfillment of its mission. Relevant to the CTN mission is a focus on training at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels in neuroscience-informed approaches to prevention and intervention. Researchers and staff at the CTN embrace a collaborative, multidisciplinary, team-based approach in all of their activities. Like its parent Prevention Science Institute, the CTN is a multi-disciplinary center that includes faculty from several colleges and units on campus, including the Department of Psychology and the College of Education.

What is translational neuroscience? Here are 10 Principles of the field:

  1. Identify environmentally malleable neurobiological functions, circuits, and systems that underlie behavioral risk and resilience.
  2. Focus on central processes (e.g., executive function, reward) broadly implicated in well-being and maladjustment.
  3. Emphasize developmental processes, sensitive periods, and inflection points that may inform intervention strategies.
  4. Use intervention trials to test theories that connect causes to outcomes via underlying neurobiological mediators.
  5. Include rigorous measurement of contextual factors (e.g., poverty, neighborhood, culture) that confer risk or resiliency.
  6. Apply precision interventions that are (a) tailored to individuals based on biobehavioral characteristics, and (b) grounded in robust neuroscience.
  7. Prioritize those neurobiological models that parsimoniously add explanatory power to behavioral theories and evidence.
  8. Emphasize on applications of neuroscience to interpersonal processes such as co-regulation.
  9. Elucidate linkages between physical health and mental health (e.g., immune system, inflammation, neuroendocrine system, autonomic nervous system, and gut microbiome).
  10. Select neurobiological methodologies and measures based on their suitability to the hypotheses being tested.
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See our work at SANS in New York!

Elliot and other SANlabbers will be presenting new work at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society (SANS) conference, April 28-30 in New York!

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Interview with Elliot on the neuroscience of self-control

Check out Elliot’s interview about self-control and the role of neuroscience in understanding it on BlackBoxPhD!

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See our work at APS

SAN Lab grad student Lauren Kahn will be presenting her work on incentivizing self-control at the Association for Psychological Science on Sunday. Hope to see you there!

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Do we overeat because of poor self-control?

See Elliot’s latest blog post on The Motivated Brain over at Psychology Today:

…Self-control is a resource, but a renewable, psychological one. We’ve known for a long time that goals that are motivated from within—for reasons that are personally important to us—are more likely to succeed than those that are motivated from without. … Succeeding at self-control is more about the desire rather than the technical skill to do so. We know how to stop eating in a literal sense; we just don’t know how to think about overeating in a way that motivates us to stop.

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Sociality as a natural mechanism of public goods provision

Peoples economic decisions are nearly always embedded in a social context. To what extent does that context influence their decisions, if at all? Social factors such as group memberships and affiliative motives have powerful effects on a range of behaviors. These factors carry substantial decision utility for people, but this social utilityis rarely included in formal models of economic behavior. Indeed, classical economic theory has been strongly challenged by findings that economic players often do not reason in terms of pure utility-maximization. The critical breakdown point of economic models is in explaining behaviors that are altruistic or at least non-selfish.

In this paper, we marry some of the rich theoretical models of social behavior taken from social psychology with decision modeling techniques from behavioral economics. Specifically, we used a classic minimal groupparadigm from social psychology to induce a sense of social connectedness in our experimental subjects that we call “sociality”. We then used economic choice tasks to measure the amount of utility imparted by sociality to decisions that favor group well-being but otherwise have little to no economic utility. In other words, we looked at the effect of brief “icebreaker” interactions with strangers on subsequent behavior in economic exchange games with those people.

We found that even these brief social interactions dramatically altered how people treated with each other. First, people were far more likely to cooperate, rather than compete, with others from their socialized group. This result held even when the interactions were anonymous save the knowledge that the partner was known to be in (or out) of the socialized group. Second, this general preference for fairness and cooperation persisted throughout the sequence of economic interactions to a greater degree than it did when people interacted with strangers or computer opponents. And third, socialization increased people’s tolerance for defection from others within the group; people were willing to give others in their group the “benefit of the doubt”, continuing to treat them fairly even when they occasionally took advantage. Together, the increase and maintenance in cooperation and the greater tolerance of occasional bad behavior shifted the group norm from one to mistrust and competition to one of trust and cooperation.

The implications of this work are at once pedestrian and profound. On the one hand, it makes sense that people would act more fairly to people they know than people they don’t, even if that tendency had not been demonstrated in an economic context until now. On the other hand, we were surprised at how much our light-touch sociality induction–basically a 5 minute icebreaker–had an enduring effect on behaviors that had direct economic implications for our participants. They were literally willing to forego money to maintain a norm of fairness within their group. For “social animals” like us, sometimes getting to know someone is all it takes to foster a sense of group identity, which in turn increases the kinds of prosocial feelings and behaviors that we all would like to see more often.

Citation info: Berkman, E.T., Lukinova, E., Menshikov, I., & Myagkov, M. (2015). Sociality as a natural mechanism of public goods provision. PLoS ONE, 10(3), e0119685. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119685 [NOTE: Author order determined alphabetically by last name.] [pdf] [PLoS]

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