Psychopharmacology

, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 160–169 | Cite as

Acute effects of nicotine on visual search tasks in young adult smokers

  • Nicola Rycroft
  • Jennifer M. Rusted
  • Samuel B. Hutton
Original Investigation

Abstract

Rationale

Nicotine is known to improve performance on tests involving sustained attention and recent research suggests that nicotine may also improve performance on tests involving the strategic allocation of attention and working memory.

Objectives

We used measures of accuracy and response latency combined with eye-tracking techniques to examine the effects of nicotine on visual search tasks.

Methods

In experiment 1 smokers and non-smokers performed pop-out and serial search tasks. In experiment 2, we used a within-subject design and a more demanding search task for multiple targets. In both studies, 2-h abstinent smokers were asked to smoke one of their own cigarettes between baseline and tests.

Results

In experiment 1, pop-out search times were faster after nicotine, without a loss in accuracy. Similar effects were observed for serial searches, but these were significant only at a trend level. In experiment 2, nicotine facilitated a strategic change in eye movements resulting in a higher proportion of fixations on target letters. If the cigarette was smoked on the first trial (when the task was novel), nicotine additionally reduced the total number of fixations and refixations on all letters in the display.

Conclusions

Nicotine improves visual search performance by speeding up search time and enabling a better focus of attention on task relevant items. This appears to reflect more efficient inhibition of eye movements towards task irrelevant stimuli, and better active maintenance of task goals. When the task is novel, and therefore more difficult, nicotine lessens the need to refixate previously seen letters, suggesting an improvement in working memory.

Keywords

Nicotine Visual search Attention Working memory Executive functions 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicola Rycroft
    • 1
  • Jennifer M. Rusted
    • 1
  • Samuel B. Hutton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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