Smokers who are good at math are more likely to quit

Hyperaxion Jun 28, 2020

A study found that people who smoke and have better math skills tend to memorize more data about the risks associated with smoking.

A study by Ohio State University in the United States found something intriguing: smokers who are good at math are more likely to quit smoking – and memory plays an important role in these cases. The study was recently published in the journal Health Psychology.

Smokers who are good at math are more likely to quit
(Credit: Sajjad Zabihi / Unsplash).

The researchers created a math skill test that was done by 696 smokers. When analyzing the data collected, the scientists noted that those who scored higher were more likely to say they intended to quit. The study also found that they had a good memory for numbers related to the risks of smoking.

After the test, participants were presented with eight different cigarette warning labels, which contained everything from drawings of a gravestone to photos of lungs damaged by smoking. Each image was accompanied by a message, such as “Smoking can kill you”, or data on the risks of smoking, like “75.4 percent of smokers will die before the age of 85, compared to 53.7 percent of non-smokers”.

Shortly after the experiment and six weeks later, the volunteers had to report how they felt about each label. The participants also answered questions about their perception of the risks of smoking and how inclined they were to quit in the next month or year.

“People who had better math skills remembered more of the scary numbers about smoking risks that we gave them, and that made a difference,” said Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, lead author of the study and research assistant professor in psychology at Ohio State University, in a note. “Smokers who are less numerate tend to have a very superficial knowledge about the health risks of their habit.”

This study is one of the few that links mathematical skills with smoking. “These results may help explain why many studies find that smokers who are more educated are more likely to successfully quit,” said the author.


Although it was not the focus of the research, the researchers also observed that, in the short term, right after the tests, the labels that generated low-intensity emotions (those with illustrations, for example) were better memorized than those with graphic images (lung affected by smoking).

However, in the long run, after six weeks, the contents of the high-emotion labels were better remembered than the low-emotion labels. This suggests that health authorities and policymakers should re-evaluate how they present risk information to smokers.

Shoots-Reinhard recommends using simple infographics and similar resources to help less educated smokers better understand the risks of the habit. “We want people to understand the risk information in order to make more informed decisions. Our results suggest that may help them make the decision to quit,” she said.

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