Anhedonia predicts altered processing of happy faces in abstinent cigarette smokers
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Anhedonia—diminished capacity to experience pleasure—is associated with tobacco dependence and smoking cessation failure. However, the mechanisms linking anhedonia and smoking are unclear.
This study examined whether trait anhedonia predicted cognitive processing of emotional faces during experimentally manipulated acute tobacco deprivation in smokers. Because nicotine may offset reward processing deficits in anhedonia and these deficits may become expressed during abstinence, we hypothesized that anhedonia would predict diminished cognitive processing of happy (versus neutral) facial expressions in nicotine deprived, but not nondeprived states.
Smokers not attempting to quit (n = 75, 10+ cig/day) completed anhedonia questionnaires in a baseline session. Participants then attended two counterbalanced experimental sessions: one following 18-h of tobacco abstinence and one after unrestricted smoking. At both sessions, they completed a computer-based measure of attentional interference induced by emotional facial expressions.
The extent to which anhedonia predicted attentional interference induced by happy faces differed as a function of deprivation status (ps ≤ .04, ηp2s > .06). Anhedonia predicted lower interference by happy (versus neutral) faces in the deprived condition (r = −.28, p = .02), but not in the nondeprived condition (r = .08, p = .51). Analyses of a secondary measure of anhedonia found marginally significant effects in the same direction.
These findings indicate that disrupted processing of positively valenced social cues occurs upon abstinence in high-anhedonia individuals. This alteration may motivate reinstatement of smoking in order to remediate these deficits. More broadly, these results suggest that the neuropharmacological pathways affected by nicotine may underlie disrupted emotional processing in anhedonia—a prominent feature in several psychiatric disorders.
KeywordsAnhedonia Smoking Nicotine dependence Nicotine withdrawal Emotional processing Facial expressions
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