Psychology study helps people quit smoking

By Gus Bode

Program has 90 percent success rate and provides financial incentives

Factoid:People interested in joining the program can call 453-3561.

Smokers who lack the motivation to break their habit can participate in a study to help them quit and receive counseling and financial incentives.


David Gilbert, a professor in the School of Psychology and director of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory Smoking Lab, is conducting his third psychology study on the effects of nicotine and helping people quit.

The study Gilbert is conducting includes both men and women and provides financial incentives for participating. The participants must quit for 45 days and can earn $500 to $620. Participants also receive behavioral counseling.

This double-blind study focuses on the parts of the brain that are influenced by the nicotine patch and psychological effects of the nicotine patch. Participants use either a nicotine patch or a placebo patch. Both of the patches look identical and are from the same company. The study has 40 percent of the group on the nicotine patch and another 40 percent using the placebo patch. The remaining 20 percent consists of the delayed-quit participants.

The study looks at how people respond to emotional stimuli before and after they quit smoking. People say smoking helps them cope with negative moods and emotional states. Participants look at images on a computer while having their brain waves measured to see if the patch is helping them cope with the stimuli.

Participants had their blood samples collected to verify that they have quit and to study genotyping. The study also considers family history to see if participants have a predisposition to smoke.

Ninety percent of the participants are successfully completing the program, Gilbert said.

“There’s a number of people that I see around the campus. Almost every week I’ll see several people who went through the program and are still smoking-abstinent,” he said. “By the end of this year we’re expecting to have a 160 completers who are successful.”


This is the fifth year of the NIDA Three or Patch Plus program. The next nine months will be the last opportunity for people to participate and try to quit smoking. Most smokers will qualify.

The first study Gilbert conducted 12 years ago was smaller and only included males. The study consisted of two groups, one that immediately quit smoking and the other that was delayed. The study evaluated brain waves and moods across time with men while they were quitting smoking.

The results for this study were published in 1998 and 1999. Gilbert found that people who have a tendency to get depressed and suffer from depression and more negative responses after quitting.

A National Institute on Drug Abuse grant made the studies possible. After Gilbert’s first study, he received another grant from NIDA four years later to study women. The second study elaborated on the first study and measured female hormones, brain waves, moods and abilities to concentrate by monitoring participants while they performed computer tasks. He found that females in the study had similar results to their male counterparts.

Gilbert, the author of “Smoking:Individual Differences, Psychopathology and Emotion,” plans to submit a proposal to NIDA next summer for an additional study including Zyban, and he hopes to begin work on the study next year in January.

Norka Rabinovich, assistant director for the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory Smoking Lab and a past smoker, knows people can quit through the program.

“It’s a structured program where you don’t run into quitting, you walk into this process and it’s something that you have a group of people that are dedicated to make it happen, to help you succeed,” she said.

Gilbert said people who relapse when trying to quit smoking are more prone to depression and also have more stress in their lives. Stress is one of the things that cause people to go back to smoking, and smokers who quit the habit say they lose their ability to concentrate.

“Most people benefit because it gives them lots of reasons to remain smoke-free,” Rabinovich said. “This gives people the opportunity, a starting place from which they can get use to the behaviors of not smoking, which is a whole series that you have to be aware of to help yourself do the behaviors you’re use to doing.”

Reporter Carrie Roderick can be reached at [email protected]