Category: Health Psychology / Behavioral Medicine - Child
Introduction: Physiological and behavioral risk factors for such health problems as cardiovascular disease (CVD) begin in adolescence and continue on into adulthood. A substantial risk factor for CVD that follows this pattern of continuation is smoking behavior (Kelder, Perry, Klepp, & Lytle, 1994). Just as CVD risk has been shown to emerge in adolescence and not just adulthood (Rottenberg, Yaroslavsky, Carney, Freedland, George, Baji, Dochnal, Gadoros, Halas, Kapornai, Kiss, Osvath, Varga, Vetro, & Kovacs, 2014), smoking as an adolescent has been shown to significantly predicate smoking as an adult (Chassin, Presson, Sherman, & Edwards, 1990). Smoking is linked to both positive and negative affective states, and recent works suggest that PNS activity is related to both. Surprisingly little work has been done that examines the role of PNS reactivity in emotional states associated with smoking behavior. The present study investigates the relationships between PNS reactivity to emotional stimuli and affective states with smoking behavior.
Methods: Participants were 566 Hungarian adolescents (42.4% female, Mage = 16, SD= 1.97) with depression histories (n=210), their never-depressed siblings (n = 195), and healthy controls (n= 161). Participants completed measures of smoking frequency as well as a psychophysiology protocol. Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity was measured via Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) during a paced breathing baseline, while viewing hedonic and dysphoric film clips (“Mr. Bean” and “The Champ”), and in response to receiving a prize. Happy and sad affect ratings were collected via an 8-point Likert scale. Reactivity in RSA and affect reflects differences in each index between post-film and baseline levels.
Results: While RSA reactivity to the sad and happy film clips was unrelated to smoking behavior, adolescent smoking behavior was significantly predicted by changes in affect. Those who smoked evidenced blunted affect reactivity across positive and negative stimuli, specifically they were less reactive in response to the happy film (OR=1.22, p < .03), receiving a prize (OR=1.25, p < .02), and in response to viewing a sad film (OR=1.41, p<.001). These effects were independent of both demographic characteristics and depression history.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that a blunted capacity to experience emotions, irrespective of their valence, is linked to smoking behavior in adolescence. While this relationship may reflect the consequences of smoking, it is also feasible that blunted emotional arousal may presage heavy cigarette use. If the latter is true, early detection of diminished affective reactivity could inform prevention efforts.
Clinical Psychology Master's Student
Cleveland State University