"A cigarette a day keeps the goodies away": Smokers show automatic approach tendencies for smoking - but not for food-related stimuli
Number of pages
SourcePLoS One, 10, 2, (2015), article e0116464
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI KLP
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Smoking leads to the development of automatic tendencies that promote approach behavior toward smoking-related stimuli which in turn may maintain addictive behavior. The present study examined whether automatic approach tendencies toward smoking-related stimuli can be measured by using an adapted version of the Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT). Given that progression of addictive behavior has been associated with a decreased reactivity of the brain reward system for stimuli signaling natural rewards, we also used the AAT to measure approach behavior toward natural rewarding stimuli in smokers. During the AAT, 92 smokers and 51 non-smokers viewed smoking-related vs. non-smoking-related pictures and pictures of natural rewards (i.e. highly palatable food) vs. neutral pictures. They were instructed to ignore image content and to respond to picture orientation by either pulling or pushing a joystick. Within-group comparisons revealed that smokers showed an automatic approach bias exclusively for smoking-related pictures. Contrary to our expectations, there was no difference in smokers’ and non-smokers’ approach bias for nicotine-related stimuli, indicating that non-smokers also showed approach tendencies for this picture category. Yet, in contrast to non-smokers, smokers did not show an approach bias for food-related pictures. Moreover, self-reported smoking attitude could not predict approach-avoidance behavior toward nicotine-related pictures in smokers or non-smokers. Our findings indicate that the AAT is suited for measuring smoking-related approach tendencies in smokers. Furthermore, we provide evidence for a diminished approach tendency toward food-related stimuli in smokers, suggesting a decreased sensitivity to natural rewards in the course of nicotine addiction. Our results indicate that in contrast to similar studies conducted in alcohol, cannabis and heroin users, the AAT might only be partially suited for measuring smoking-related approach tendencies in smokers. Nevertheless, our findings are of special importance for current etiological models and smoking cessation programs aimed at modifying nicotine-related approach tendencies in the context of a nicotine addiction.
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