Hennepin Healthcare researchers investigate a smoking cessation game
The Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute is evaluating a novel method of quitting smoking by allowing participants to wager on themselves and earn real money. It is a part of a brand-new game called QuitBet, which is supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grant that is being administered by scientists at Hennepin Healthcare.
Players bet $30 on themselves, which is added to the pot, and commit to stopping smoking for four weeks. After that, players get a free breath testing device to monitor their daily progress. All of the players who were able to stop smoking at the end divide the pot with the other winners, winning back their original wager plus a profit. Most winners who give up smoking double their winnings.
QuitBet, created by company WayBetter, is an example of the “serious games” movement, which employs games to improve health. In order to make healthy behaviors exciting and interesting, serious games may take a chore like quitting smoking and add social components like competitiveness, social support, and, in this example, the motivation of having money on the line.
The principal investigator for the study is Jamie Rosen, founder and CEO of WayBetter. Scientific support is being given by Sandra Japuntich, Ph.D., a Hennepin Healthcare Investigator. The National Institutes of Health provided $1.15 million in funding to help the research.
“We’ve known for years that paying people to change behaviors, known as contingency management, works to help people stop smoking. However, implementing contingency management in a sustainable way is difficult. QuitBet solves this by having players self-fund their own incentives,” said Dr. Japuntich.
In this QuitBet study, players prove that they are not smoking by taking a carbon monoxide breath test every day using a device connected to their smartphone, which is provided for free to participants. The study will test whether providing social support during the game through a social feed improves abstinence rates or user satisfaction.
“Quitting smoking is hard, but who said it also has to be solitary and frustrating?” said Rosen. “Why not mix in some fun, friendly competition and the thrill of winning money? It’s a powerful new way to think about the problem. We’re finding that it really helps people get through those tough first few weeks.”
The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R44DA048668. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.