If smokers see someone else lighting up, their brains will crave a cigarette. This is a biological effect proven in a new study that examined the hand movements of smokers. Seeing actors in a movie activated the brain areas of smokers known to interpret and plan hand movements. Basically, seeing someone else smoke instinctively had their body moving to light a cigarette of their own.
It’s published in the “Journal of Neuroscience.” Habitual smokers repeat the same hand motions many times each day. The study’s focus was to see whether the parts of the brain that control that routine gesture could be triggered by simply seeing someone else smoke.
And they found that seeing someone light a cigarette evoked the same brain responses as planning to actually make that movement. This provides more insight for people trying to quit smoking, an addiction that leads to one in five U.S. deaths each year.
This supports past findings that showed smokers who watched people smoke in a movie left the theater more likely to crave a cigarette. What needs further investigation is whether seeing such images in motion pictures will affect a person trying to quit smoking.
To the study: 17 smokers and 17 non-smokers watched the first 30 minutes of the movie “Matchstick Men,” while MRIs examined their brains. That film prominently features smoking scenes. The secret: volunteers were unaware that the study was about smoking. When they saw actors smoke, smokers showed greater brain activity in the areas involved in the perception and coordination of actions. They specifically corresponded to the hand they use to smoke.
So, for those trying to quit smoking, this is one item that might not immediately come to mind. Avoiding watching people smoke, either on the screen or in real life. Such images might be silently causing your brain to fire up a response that involves lighting up a cigarette.