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How social support can stop smoking

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How social support can stop smoking

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Smoking is one of the leading causes of illness in the western world, and whilst technologies such as the vaporizer pen may offer some health benefits, there is still a widespread clamour to encourage people to stop altogether.

A central theme of crowdsourcing, and indeed social business, is that the crowd are often smarter than so called experts.  In the commercial world, this is manifest in travel and shopping, where consumer reviews are shown to be more trustworthy than recommendations by experts.

I wrote earlier this year about a study into using this kind of peer support to improve health choices and behaviours.  The study, conducted by UCLA, looked at using online communities to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and in particular of HIV.  A number of findings emerged from the research, but central amongst most of them was that the crowd helped promote healthy behaviours, either through provision of emotional support or good advice.

Similar findings emerged from a study into the role of the crowd in smoking cessation.  The study focused specifically on tapping into the crowd for the construction of anti-smoking messages to share with smokers in their fight against the addiction.  These crowdsourced messages were then compared against specially crafted messages from a team of experts on the subject.  This team consisted of physicians, nurses and so on, all of whom were using best practice guidelines when crafting their messages.

The crowd of nearly 40 smokers produced just under 3,000 messages, ranging from ones about attitudes and expectations, improvements in quality of life, how to seek help and various behavioural strategies.  The delivery of these messages was structured according to the state of the recipient.  So for instance, if the recipient was not really looking to quit, the messages focused more on expectations and how quitting might change life quality.  If the recipient was ready to quit however, the messages were focused more on behavioural strategies for quitting.

When the success rate of the messages were analysed, it emerged that the crowdsourced messages were more likely to generate results than those crafted by an expert, with the messages most aligned to the social and real-life aspects of smoking delivering the best results.

The researchers believe that such peer created messages could prove especially useful to ensure cessation efforts are maintained.

“As maintaining engagement in web-assisted tobacco interventions is challenging, yet critical to intervention fidelity and subsequent cessation, these results provide interesting insights for future directions. In particular, they highlight how persuasive messages may maintainengagement, especially if the content is deemed by smokers to be realistic and authentic to their experiences and struggles with quitting.” the researchers conclude.

They do point out however that not all of the peer sourced messages achieved equal results, with some doing significantly better than others.  Nevertheless, they do believe that when authorities are looking to improve health related behaviours, they would be well served in recruiting people from within that community to help craft messages of advice and support.


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