Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Environmental Influences on Craving and the Physiological and Cognitive Effects of Cigarette Smoking

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Environmental Influences on Craving and the Physiological and Cognitive Effects of Cigarette Smoking

Article excerpt

A novel environment was used to examine whether arbitrary environmental stimuli could come to elicit conditioned compensatory responses from cigarette smokers. It was hypothesised that: 1) Craving for cigarettes would be linked to environmental stimuli, and 2) these stimuli would elicit physiological and cognitive conditioned compensatory responses. Fourteen participants aged between 19 and 51 were exposed to 10 conditioning sessions in a novel environment followed by 2 experimental sessions in the same environment. Half of the participants smoked during the conditioning sessions while the other half mock smoked. During the two experimental sessions, the participants smoked in one session and mock smoked in the other. The participants' heart rate, cognitive and craving responses were recorded. The craving hypothesis was supported, however, there was no little statistically significant support for the second hypothesis. The benefits of using the current design are discussed, along with the importance of the results for smoking cessation programs.


Cigarette smoking is a prolific problem in New Zealand Society. Statistics indicate that approximately 26% of the population are regular smokers and smoking directly and indirectly results in thousands of deaths each year (Ministry of Health, 2000). Reducing the rates of smoking is a major aim of health groups within New Zealand and around the world.

Cigarette smokers experience more than a physiological addiction. While nicotine is a highly addictive drug, cigarette smoking also involves a behavioural component. Cigarette smokers often follow ritualistic patterns before, during and after a cigarette (Le Houezec, 1998). A substantial body of research has focused on cigarette smoking as a learnt addiction and it has become clear that behavioural techniques could play an important role in any treatment strategy aimed at establishing long-term cigarette smoking cessation (O'Brien, Childress, Ehrman, & Robbins, 1998).

The effects of nicotine are important when examining smoking from a behavioural perspective, as these effects have the potential to lead to conditioned responses. Nicotine is a potent stimulant (Gottlieb, 1992) and its consumption is accompanied by marked increases in plasma. norepinephrine and epinephrine (Cryer, Haymond, Santiago & Shad 1976). The influx of these agents has a profound and almost instantaneous effect on the body's sympathetic nervous system. Two of the most frequently reported physiological changes resulting from nicotine administration are increases in heart rate (e.g., Fagerstrom, 1978) and blood pressure (e.g., Grassi, Seravalle, Calhoun, Bolla, Giannattasio, Marabini, Bo, & Mancia, 1994; Hashimoto, 1993). Studies have also found that nicotine can improve performance on many different cognitive tasks such as short term memory tasks (Kerr, Sherwood & Hindmarch, 1991; Sherwood, Kerr & Hindmarch, 1992; West & Hack, 1991), choice reaction time tasks (Kerr et al., 1991; Sherwood et al, 1992), compensatory tracking tasks (Kerr et al., 1991; Sherwood et al., 1992), and continuous performance tasks (Pritchard, Robertson & Guy, 1992).

Cue reactivity refers to classically conditioned responses to environmental cues that consistently coincide with drug administration. These responses may be cognitive, behavioural or physiological in nature (Payne, Etscheidt, & Corrigan, 1990). Studies measuring craving for nicotine have found that the presentation of smoking-related stimuli result in increased desire for a cigarette (e.g., Tiffany & Hakeneworth, 1991; Tiffany & Drobes, 1990). Studies have also revealed that classically conditioned physiological responses to nicotine have tended to be compensatory in nature, that is, opposite to the effects of the drug (e.g., Niaura, Abrams, DeMuth, Pinto & Monti, 1989). No published studies have examined the influence of environmental cues on the cognitive effects of nicotine. …

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