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The effect of smoking on perception of muscle tension

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It has been suggested that smoking may reduce affect in high-arousal situations by blocking peripheral physiological cues. The effects of smoking on perception of one type of physiological response, muscle activity, was evaluated in two studies. In study 1 male and female smokers were exposed to four conditions: high and low arousal crossed with smoking or deprivation. Results showed that smokers produce less muscle activity during high-than low-arousal stituations, and that smoking reduced sensitivity to muscle activity in females, but enhanced it in males. These perception differences were not related to arousal as assessed by heart rate, which was elevated in all high-arousal situations. When compared to nonsmokers, smokers in a deprived state generate more muscle activity during the perception task, but showed no differences in sensitivity. These results represent the initial demonstration that smoking can alter the perception of physiological processes. Study 2 was designed to determine whether the effects of smoking were specific to muscle tension or indicative of a more generalized perceptual change. Perception of muscle tension and decibel levels were compared in smoking or deprived female smokers who were in the high-arousal situation. Results for muscle-tension perception in high-arousal situations were similar to those in study 1, but smoking did not alter perception of auditory stimuli.

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Correspondence to Leonard H. Epstein.

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Epstein, L.H., Dickson, B.E., McKenzie, S. et al. The effect of smoking on perception of muscle tension. Psychopharmacology 83, 107–113 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00427433

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Key words

  • Cigarettes
  • Perception
  • Arousal
  • Heart rate
  • Muscle tension