Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications such as varenicline are often used as smoking cessation aids. But a new study suggests there may be another way to quit the habit: by manipulating the brain’s reward system through beliefs. The researchers say their findings “go beyond the placebo effect,” suggesting that beliefs alone can either eliminate or boost the brain effects of nicotine.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study revealed that participants who were told their cigarettes contained no nicotine showed less activity in areas of the brain that drive addiction — the reward — learning pathways, suggesting that an individual’s beliefs about nicotine may influence a person’s addiction to it.

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