RATIONALE: Attentional biases and executive control deficits may play a role in smoking cessation failure.
OBJECTIVES: The object of this study was to determine whether smokers' pre-quit reaction times on a computerized modified Simon task (which assesses attentional biases and executive control deficits) predict abstinence following a quit attempt.
METHODS: Participants (N = 365) in a larger smoking cessation clinical trial completed the modified Simon task twice (while 10-h nicotine-deprived vs. not deprived). In the task, two photographs (i.e., two digital slides) were displayed—one always neutral, the other positive, negative, smoking-relevant, or neutral. A probe (< or >) then appeared to the left or right of center, and participants indicated the arrow's direction (left or right) which was either congruent or incongruent with the arrow's location on the screen. The incongruency effect, a measure of executive control, was calculated by subtracting the reaction time to congruent probes from the reaction time to incongruent probes.
RESULTS: Greater impairment in executive control (i.e., greater probe incongruency effects) after viewing positive and smoking slides relative to negative slides predicted an inability to establish initial cessation and to maintain abstinence up to 8 weeks post-quit.
CONCLUSIONS: These effects may be because smokers who avoid/escape from processing negative affect are more likely to fail in a cessation attempt. Differences in relatively automatic responses to affective cues distinguish smokers who are successful and unsuccessful in their smoking cessation attempts, but effects were modest in size.
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