How virtual reality can help smokers quit

How virtual reality can help smokers quit

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Does virtual reality offer new ways out of addiction?

Germany still likes to smoke. Over 25 percent of the population hang on the glow stick. According to studies, Germany has smoked into the top 10 countries with the highest number of smokers per capita. Common withdrawal methods do not seem to be really effective despite a slight decrease. A German research team is now breaking new ground and has developed smoking cessation using virtual reality.

Researchers at the University of Siegen have programmed a virtual reality application to help users overcome their nicotine addiction. The team wants to address a strong emotional level in the virtual reality, which gives the user more strength not to take a cigarette. To do this, the application takes users to another world, where they can move away from addictive factors.

Smoking - still a popular addiction

Over 25 percent of the population in Germany still smoke. Tobacco use is by far more popular than any other drug. Thanks to its popularity, tobacco is also the most dangerous drug. One in ten deaths worldwide is caused by smoking, a study in the specialist journal "The Lancet" showed in 2017. Germany is even above average here. With the new virtual reality project "ANTARES", smokers should be able to train how they can resist using a cigarette.

Defeat the urge with virtual training

As the researchers from Siegen report, the application puts the user in an artificial world. Here he is confronted with objects that normally encourage smoking, such as a lighter, an ashtray or even a cigarette, in various places. There are also items that have nothing to do with smoking. The user should now optically reduce all nicotine-related objects and thus give them less relevance. Instead, other objects should be optically enlarged, explains the project team.

Strengthen the concept of approach avoidance training

"We already know from previous studies that such training - also known as 'approach avoidance training' - on the computer can have a small effect on smoking," reports psychology professor Dr. Tim Klucken in a press release. The team would like to increase this effect through virtual reality.

Virtual reality therapy

The user is whisked completely into another world with the help of virtual reality glasses. "The emotional level is therefore addressed much more than when you sit in front of the classic desktop computer," adds Professor Dr. Dr. Björn Niehaves, who is also involved in the project. The potential that virtual reality offers for therapy has not yet been sufficiently researched.

Address a new level

According to the scientists, virtual reality can be used to achieve the user's impulsive and emotional system. Conventional nicotine therapies would instead only target the reflexive system. In other words, presenting rational arguments is not enough to stop smoking for many people. "In addiction, the impulsive system is much more important than the reflexive system," said Klucken. In many cases, people would suddenly and impulsively pick up a cigarette, for example if they were stressed or had an argument.

As a supplement to conventional therapy

"Our application alone is certainly not a silver bullet," notes Klucken. However, the researchers hope that a combination of the virtual reality application with known smoking programs will lead to better smoking cessation.

Participants wanted

In the next step of the project, the team around Professor Niehaves will test which version is best accepted by the users. To this end, smokers between the ages of 18 and 65 are also currently being sought, who have been smoking for at least six months and who consume at least six cigarettes a day. Anyone interested in participating can register with the University of Siegen.

Those who prefer not to use VR glasses will find support in the article "quit smoking". (vb)

Author and source information

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