Certain parts of the brain activated in people who heard tailored health messages and quit smoking

People who demonstrated a stronger brain response to certain brain regions when receiving individually tailored smoking cessation messages were more likely to quit smoking four months after, a new study found.

The new University of Michigan study underscores the importance of delivering individually tailored public health messages to curb unhealthy behaviors, said principal investigator Hannah Faye Chua, who led the study as a research assistant professor at the U-M School of Public Health. It also begins to uncover the underlying neural reasons why these individually tailored messages are so much more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach, said Chua, who now works in the private sector. The study is scheduled for advance online publication Feb. 27 in the journal Nature Neuroscience

Researchers have known for 15 years that tailored public health messages that account for a person's individuality work better at curbing unhealthy behaviors but until now, they haven't known why.

Chua and the research team hypothesized that portions of the brain activated during self-related processing were also engaged when people received individually tailored health messages, and that this brain activity accounted for the increased effectiveness of tailored messages.

For the study, the research group assessed 91 people who wanted to stop smoking, and based on those answers they designed an individual smoking cessation program for each subject.

Next, researchers imaged subjects' brains with MRI to see which portions responded to tailored and untailored messages about smoking cessation, and also to neutral messages. They then compared the brain response to the brain response during a self-appraisal task in which participants, still in MRI, made yes-no judgments to self-related statements such as "I am shy" or "I am athletic."