Category: Health Psychology / Behavioral Medicine - Adult
Introduction: Smoking is associated with both positive and negative affective states (PA & NA). With respect to NA, smoking is one self-regulatory response aimed at reducing distress. With respect to PA, smoking behaviors often occur in the context of hedonic interpersonal situations. Over time, however, smoking is linked to reduced PA and increased NA. A growing literature links parasympathetic nervous activity (PNS) to the experience of NA and PA states. However, while some studies show that smoking is associated with reduced PNS activity, it remains uncertain whether this association is a function of NA and PA. Recent literature also supports a link between smoking and marked anhedonia in the processing of such hedonic stimuli as “happy” faces (Leventhal, Munafo, Tidey, Sussman, Monterosso, Sun & Kahler, 2012). The relationship between PNS changes in response to PA and NA related states, emotional stimuli (such as the aforementioned “happy faces”), and smoking is unclear. Current studies linking PNS activity to smoking behavior measure PNS during resting states. The present study investigates the relationships between PNS activity at rest and in response to hedonic and dysphoric stimuli, trait affect, and smoking behavior in an adult community sample.
Methods: Participants were 85 adults (64% female, Mage = 31, SD = 12.89) who completed measures of smoking behavior, Trait Affectivity (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule), and a psychophysiology protocol during which PNS was measured via Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) at rest (free breathing resting baseline) and while viewing emotional film clips (“The Champ” and “Wall-E”). RSA reactivity was quantified as the difference between the free breathing condition film conditions. Age and sex were covaried in all analyses.
Results: While trait PA, resting RSA, and RSA reactivity to the sad film clip were unrelated to smoking behavior, trait NA and RSA reactivity to the hedonic film clip robustly predicted smoking status. Specifically, those who smoked evidenced higher NA levels (OR = 1.08, p < .05), and a robust RSA withdrawal to the hedonic film clip (OR = 1.92, p<.05).
Conclusion: These findings support NA as a correlate of smoking, and provide novel evidence on the role of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is particularly notable that PNS reactivity to hedonic stimuli, rather than to the dysphoric mood induction, emerged as a predictor of smoking status. This specificity may point to subtle deficits in hedonic capacity, and may suggest that physiological processes could be helpful in detecting risk factors for smoking behavior. Clarifying such risk factors would allow for more effective detection and intervention strategies to be developed.
Clinical Psychology Master's Student
Cleveland State University