Whoever came up with that gag may have said it in jest, but there’s truth in it. Millions of people quit smoking every day using a variety of methods. The majority though, pick it right up in less than 24 hours.
Smoking is a tough nut to crack, and behavioral scientists have been trying to come up with a solution for a long time.
One particular clinical study (Chapman, Smith, Layden, 1971) focused on the use of punishment and self-management training to help smokers quit their habit.
In the study, 23 adults who had been smoking from 4 to 48 years, and from 14 to 60 cigarettes a day, were treated with small electric jolts for a number of sessions.
During the sessions, participants were asked to look at cigarette advertisements and to smoke their favorite brand of cigarettes. While performing these activities, they would receive unpleasant electric jolts.
However, they were not given a jolt when putting out a cigarette.
Additionally, participants were trained in routines and techniques for self-control.
Out of the 23 participants, 21 managed to quit their habit completely in as little as 5 sessions, and stick to zero cigarettes up to two weeks later.
Considering the dismal success rate for other smoking-cessation methods out there, the results of this experiment are very encouraging. There are also numerous other studies where treatment via electric jolts has successfully helped people kick a long-standing smoking habit.
Additionally, over the past 80+ years, scientists have been using this approach to treat a variety of other habits such as chronic marijuana use, heroin addiction, alcoholism, overeating, and gambling.
Chapman, R. F., Smith, J. W., & Layden, T. A. (1971). Elimination of cigarette smoking by punishment and self-management training. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 9(3), 255–264. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(71)90011-8
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change