An agenda-driven study on beliefs, smoking and addiction that found nothing of substance

The researchers of this 2014 Virginia Tech study said that they found something profound about beliefs and the brain and addiction and smoking.


I’ll assert the short versions of some relevant understandings before assessing the study.

One of the principles of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy is: we all have needs that start at the beginning of our lives. Our needs change as we grow. If our basic needs aren’t satisfied anywhere along the way, we feel pain.

When the unmet needs are early in our lives and the painful conditions persist, enduring physiological changes may occur.

This basic truth is supported by the findings of much of the recent research I’ve curated on this blog, the references in those studies, and older research elsewhere.

Another fundamental of Primal Therapy is that the physiological impacts of these unmet needs drive our behavior, thoughts, and feelings.

The painful impacts of our unfulfilled needs ensure that we are on the qui vive, impelled to be constantly vigilant for some way to fulfill them.

This is a richly insightful and truly empathetic method of interpreting people’s behaviors and expressions of thoughts and feelings.

One hypothesis of Primal Therapy is: a major function that our cerebrums have evolutionarily adapted is to use ideas and beliefs to repress pain and make us more comfortable.

I value this inference as an empathetic method of interpreting people’s behaviors and expressions of thoughts and feelings. Click the Beliefs category or tag to view samples of how beliefs, expectations, and predictions are studied using cerebral measurements.


So, what did this study contribute to science about beliefs and the underlying causes of addiction and smoking as found by measuring the subjects’ brains?

Well, nothing new, really. The study was all about the effects, the symptoms.

I saw:

  • Nothing about impelling physical conditions and causes,
  • Nothing about what primarily drives people’s beliefs and addiction behaviors, and
  • Nothing about what may permanently help someone with their need for the next cigarette.

I wonder what the study’s reviewer saw that factually advanced science. Everybody already knew that beliefs can temporarily substitute for addicting substances, and beliefs can temporarily change behaviors. It’s a foundation of AA and detox centers.

It’s also a foundation of AA and detox centers that these beliefs have to be constantly reinforced. That fact in and of itself demonstrates that underlying causes aren’t addressed in the AA and detox center approaches. The symptoms always bubble up, and require thought remedies and other interventions in order to stay suppressed.


What does the following quote from the Significance statement sound like to you?

“Our findings suggest that subjective beliefs can override the physical presence of a powerful drug like nicotine by modulating learning signals processed in the brain’s reward system.”

We know that any therapeutic approach won’t supply the addicting substance, which leaves just the beliefs and their required constant reinforcement. It sounded to me like the research provided details about an approach that wasn’t capable of anything more than temporarily suppressing symptoms.

The unsupported overconfidence of the researchers that:

“The implications of these findings may be far ranging”

led to one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve seen in a while:

“Just as drugs micromanage the belief state,” Montague said, “maybe we can micromanage beliefs to better effect behavior change in addiction.”

This hubris just added to the stench of an agenda. Since smoking isn’t politically correct, I’d guess that it wasn’t that difficult for this study to be funded and promoted. It apparently wasn’t an obstacle that the research neither contributed to advancing science nor to really helping people.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/8/2539.full “Belief about nicotine selectively modulates value and reward prediction error signals in smokers”

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