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Smoking Scenes in Movies Light Up Smokers' Brains

TUESDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Seeing a character in a movie light up a cigarette triggers smokers' brains to plan the same motions, new research shows.

In the study, functional MRI was used to monitor brain activity in 17 smokers and 17 nonsmokers as they watched movie scenes that featured smoking. When they saw those scenes, the smokers' brains showed increased activity in areas involved in movement of the hand they use to smoke.

The researchers, led by senior investigator Todd Heatherton of Dartmouth College, published their findings in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"Our findings support prior studies that show smokers who exit a movie that had images of smoking are more likely to crave a cigarette, compared with ones who watched a movie without them," Heatherton said in a news release from the Society for Neuroscience.

"More work is needed to show whether brain activity in response to movie smoking predicts relapse for a smoker trying to quit," he added.

The researchers noted that smokers are often advised to avoid other smokers and to remove smoking paraphernalia from their homes, but they may not think to avoid seeing a movie that includes scenes of smoking.

It's long been known that visual cues can cause drug cravings, said Scott Huettel, a Duke University expert in the neuroscience of decision making, who was not involved in the study.

"This finding builds upon the growing body of evidence that addiction may be reinforced not just by drugs themselves but by images and other experiences associated with those drugs," Huettel said in the news release.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Society for Neuroscience, news release, Jan. 18, 2011

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