Study: Smoking cessation apps lack proper motivation

Smoking cessation apps may not sufficiently stimulate autonomous motivation--a critical element for kicking the habit--finds an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

The study, which analyzes and evaluates the content of smoking cessation apps available in South Korea, employs a theoretical framework for analysis called the self-determination theory (SDT).

According to SDT, gratification of three basic psychological needs--autonomy, competence, and relatedness--is essential to the development of intrinsic motivation and the maintenance of behavioral change. In other words, if behaviors are triggered by autonomous motivation rather than controlled motivation, people are more likely to engage voluntarily in behavioral changes.

Researchers identified 309 smoking cessation apps from Google Play and the iTunes store, of which 175 apps were randomly drawn and analyzed in the study.

Though the analysis revealed that 94.3 percent of the apps had at least one feature that tapped at least one of SDT's three basic needs, only 10.3 percent of apps addressed all three basic needs. Because many of these apps provide limited features to satisfy all three basic needs, the authors argue that they may serve as a limited tool in stimulating autonomous motivation for long-term smoking cessation. 

"Although the present study is only a snapshot of smoking cessation apps presently available, this study suggests that there is still room to increase the efficacy of these apps and that a good theory, such as SDT, can guide the process," concludes the article. "Public health practitioners would need to play a role in planning mobile health apps by informing developers of the theory."

Nevertheless, according to a November 2012 review of evidence from five studies, mobile phone-based interventions are an effective method for helping smokers quit. The interventions included in the review primarily used text messaging via mobile phones to provide motivational messages, support and tips for stopping smoking, resulting in people being more likely to stay away from cigarettes over a six-month period.

Last year, consumer studies demonstrated the effectiveness of Voxiva's Text2quit personalized interactive smoking cessation program, with self-reported quit rates as high as 32 percent after six months. 

To learn more:
- read the JMIR article