The Use of Virtual Reality in the Production of Cue-Specific Craving for Cigarettes: A Meta-Analysis

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The cue-reactivity procedure has demonstrated that smokers respond with increases in subjective craving in the presence of smoking-related cues. Virtual reality is an emerging mode of cue presentation for cue-reactivity research. Despite the successful implementation of virtual reality during the last decade, no systematic review has investigated the magnitude of effects across studies.


This research systematically reviewed findings from studies using virtual reality in cigarette craving assessment. Eligible studies assessed subjective craving for cigarettes in smokers exposed to smoking-related and neutral environments. Cohen’s d was used to assess differences in craving between smoking-related and nonsmoking-related virtual environments. A random effects approach was used to combine effect sizes.


A total of 18 studies involving 541 smokers was included in the final analyses. Environments with smoking-related cues produced significant increases in craving relative to environments without smoking-related cues. The mean overall effect size (Cohen’s d) was 1.041 (SE = 0.12, 95% CI = 0.81 to 1.28, Z = 8.68, P < .001).


The meta-analysis suggested that presentations of smoking cues through virtual reality can produce strong increases in craving among cigarette smokers. This strong cue-reactivity effect, which was comparable in magnitude to the craving effect sizes found with more conventional modes of cue presentation, supports the use of virtual reality for the generation of robust cue-specific craving in cue-reactivity research.

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