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Game-based Contingency Management for Smoking Cessation

Funding Source

NIDA, R34DA033536

Project Period

8/15/12 - 7/31/18

Principal Investigator

Bethany Raiff, PhD; Darion Rapoza, PhD

Other Project Staff

Jesse Dallery, PhD; Robert Hone

Project Summary

Cigarette smoking remains the number one cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in the U.S. A number of barriers have been noted that prevent access to smoking cessation interventions, such as lack of clinician training, the time commitment required to implement treatments, and the costs associated with treatment. Thus, it is critically important that more effective interventions be developed, and be made accessible at a relatively low cost, to smokers.

We recently developed an Internet-based Contingency Management (CM) intervention, where participants submit web-camera recorded videos as they exhale into a CO monitor, and they earn money for abstinence. Although the costs associated with providing monetary incentives contingent on smoking abstinence are likely to be less than the costs associated with medical complications caused by smoking, the cost of incentives is often cited as a barrier to CM. Thus, the goals of the present proposal are to markedly decrease costs and increase sustainability of this highly accessible Internet-based CM for smoking cessation.

Using an iterative development process with the help of a team of experts, a social strategy video game intended to be fun and engaging will be developed for Facebook (“Quitters, Incorporated”). Treatment-seeking smokers will be able to earn incentives contingent on meeting web-camera verified CO values consistent with smoking abstinence. Three powerful, evidence-based incentives will be harnessed in this CM intervention. The incentives will consist of: (1) individual contingencies that can be used to improve game play, (2) social contingencies, such as positive feedback and virtual rewards, that can be given to other players to acknowledge their success with abstinence and improve their game play, and (3) group contingencies that will require all members of a group to meet abstinence goals in order to unlock access to certain game features. After game development, we will assess the feasibility, acceptability, appeal, and preliminary efficacy of video-game-based CM for smoking cessation. A 7-week pilot study will involve randomly assigning participants (N=100) to either: (1) abstinent contingent, where incentives will be delivered contingent on quitting smoking, or (2) submission contingent, where incentives will be delivered contingent on submitting videos, but independent of quitting smoking.

The outcomes of the pilot study will impact future research in the development of video-game-based CM interventions for smoking, as well as for alcohol and other drug use, and medication compliance in diabetes, asthma, and other conditions. Game-based CM will promote widespread access to this innovative, fun, sustainable intervention at a relatively low cost (the game will be available to play for free), thereby offering the potential to have a substantial public health impact.

Public Health Relevance

We propose to develop and evaluate an online video-game-based smoking cessation intervention that will overcome barriers to treatment such as cost and sustainability. This video-game will be the first of its kind, based on an evidence-based intervention shown to promote smoking abstinence. The findings from this research will be of great public health significance because of the unprecedented reach and relatively low cost, as well as the potential for similar interventions to be developed for other health problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse and medication adherence for chronic illnesses.