, Volume 212, Issue 3, pp 309-320
Date: 29 Jul 2010

Attentional bias toward cigarette cues in active smokers

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While it is well documented that substance users exhibit attentional bias toward addiction-related stimuli, the exact mechanism remains unclear.


To differentiate between distinct aspects of attentional allocation in the smoking-cue attentional bias observed in smokers.


Active smokers (AS) and non-smoking controls completed spatial cueing tasks with pairs of smoking and neutral pictorial cues to measure attentional capture, and an attentional blink task with either a smoking or neutral image appearing behind the first target (T1) to measure aspects of attention separate from capture. In addition, we tested groups of sports enthusiasts, and non-enthusiasts in corresponding tasks replacing smoking images with sports-related images to address the possibility that effects found in the smoking study were due simply to greater stimulus familiarity.


Smoking cues reflexively capture smokers' attention, as AS showed a greater bias toward smoking cues in short stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA; the time between the onset of two stimuli) trials, but not in trials with a longer SOA. These effects represent a facilitation of responding to smoking- versus neutral-cued targets, and were absent in the sports control task. The attentional blink effects were similar in the smoking- and sports-cue experiments: the special T1 resulted in better detection of the second target for the smokers and sports enthusiasts.


Stimulus familiarity may contribute to some aspects of attentional bias in regular nicotine users, but selective quick capture of attention by smoking cues may be nicotine-habit specific.