Craving a Cigarette? Pitt Study Suggests Craving Hinders Comprehension Without Your Realizing It

Dec 07, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new University of Pittsburgh study reveals that craving a cigarette while performing a cognitive task not only increases the chances of a person's mind wandering, but also makes that person less likely to notice when his or her mind has wandered.

The paper, titled “Out for a Smoke: The Impact of Cigarette Craving on Zoning Out During Reading,” provides the first evidence that craving disrupts an individual's meta-awareness, the ability to periodically appraise one's own thoughts.

The research is published in the January issue of .

Pitt professor of psychology Michael Sayette and colleagues Erik Reichle, associate professor and chair of Pitt's cognitive program in psychology, and Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recruited 44 male and female heavy smokers to take part in the study. All smoked nearly a pack a day and refrained from smoking for at least six hours before arriving at the lab.

Participants were assigned at random to either a crave-condition or low-crave group. Those in the latter group were permitted to smoke throughout the study; members of the crave-condition group had to abstain. Participants were asked to read as many as 34 pages of Tolstoy's “War and Peace” from a computer screen. If they caught themselves zoning out, they pressed a key labeled ZO. Every few minutes, a tone sounded, and they were asked via the computer, “Were you zoning out?” to which they responded by pressing a “Yes” or “No” key. After 30 minutes, a reading test was administered.

Although both groups were prompted a similar number of times, the people craving cigarettes acknowledged more mind-wandering episodes-three times as many, in fact- as those in the low-crave group. But as far as independently recognizing (meta-awareness) that they were zoning out, those who were craving were no more likely to do so than the other group. Participants in the craving group had at least three times as many opportunities to catch themselves zoning out-but they did not. They were impaired in their ability to notice their own mind-wandering episodes.

“Researchers have known for a while that cigarette craving can interfere with our powers of concentration,” Sayette said. “But, similar to what we found in a previous study about the impaired concentration of people who drank, this 'double whammy' (i.e., more zoneouts that take longer to recognize) may explain why craving often disrupts efforts to exercise self-control-a process requiring the ability to become aware of your current state in order to regulate it.”

This observation-that craving may impair sustained attention and reduce meta-awareness-could be of interest to those who study workplace accidents, where must refrain. It also offers a new way to examine factors that interfere with learning among college students who smoke and must abstain for extended periods during classes.

Provided by University of Pittsburgh

Explore further: Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Trouble quitting?: New smoking study may reveal why

Aug 26, 2008

A new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University sheds light on why smokers' intentions to quit "cold turkey" often fizzle out within days or even hours.

Hypnotist ready to kick cigarette butt

Jan 16, 2008

What if I told you that throughout this release there are hypnotic suggestions about why you should cover this story and make it the top one? Would you be able to pick out the suggestions? Or would they work without you even ...

Recommended for you

Our brains are hardwired for language

18 hours ago

A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University and researchers at Harvard Medical School shows the brains of individual speakers are sensitive to language univer ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...