Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

David J. Drobes

Keywords

attention, bias, cognition, nicotine, tobacco

Abstract

Extensive research has shown that the attentional systems of addicted individuals are biased towards drug-related stimuli, but despite several decades of effort these results have frequently been inconsistent. Though commonly believed to result from addiction and dependence, cognitive research would suggest that frequent exposure to drug-related stimuli could affect the attentional processing of drug-related cues even if no actual drug use occurs. The present investigation examined attentional bias for smoking cues using a novel visual search paradigm amongst smokers currently in nicotine withdrawal and fully satiated smokers, as well as a non-smoker control group. Variables related to smoking behavior, as well as exposure to smoking stimuli independent of drug use were examined as predictors of task performance. Results revealed that participants were faster to detect smoking cues amongst a grid of distracting images relative to neutral cues, but that this effect was not specific to smokers. No consistent pattern emerged when smoking cues were used as distractors, indicating that attentional bias mainly operated to facilitate initial orienting to smoking cues on this task. Smoking-behavior variables were not associated with task performance. However, the amount of environmental exposure to smoking stimuli was strongly associated with performance, independent of smoking status. As environmental exposure has not been directly assessed in prior research on attentional bias, this raises questions about the interpretation of previous findings including the notion that it accurately taps constructs directly related to drug dependence. Future research should determine if exposure serves as an equally powerful predictor across traditional measures of attentional bias. If so, theoretical work should be reformulated to account for the notion that attentional bias may not develop as a result of addiction, though may still play a role in maintaining addictive behavior.

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