We conducted a study to see how a very short mindfulness training would affect smokers who were trying to quit. We wanted to know whether <20 minutes of instruction would affect peoples’ cigarette cravings and what the brain mechanisms might be. In this study, we invited smokers who were about to participate in a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program to complete an fMRI scan, during which they viewed smoking-related pictures and neutral (smoking-unrelated) pictures. Just before the scan, we instructed them in mindful attention for about twenty minutes. After each picture they rated their craving. Before the picture, participants were instructed in how to view the following image: LOOK meant to just look naturally, and MINDFULLY ATTEND meant to use the mindfulness techniques. We found that participants rated their craving lower after mindful attention to smoking-related pictures, and their brains showed decreased activity in an area of the brain that helps represent our sense of self (the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex). We think this might mean that mindfulness helps smokers turn down their cravings by not getting as self-invested.

Cecilia Westbrook

Carnegie Mellon University