Evidence suggests that the transition from experimental to regular smoking is facilitated by the influence of tobacco on affective and attentional mechanisms. The objective of this study was to examine affective and attentional responses in young adult smokers using fear-potentiated startle and prepulse inhibition.
Participants were 56 college nonsmokers, nonabstinent smokers, and overnight-abstinent smokers. The fear-potentiated startle test examined phasic responses to imminent threat cues and more sustained responses to unpredictable aversive events. Prepulse inhibition investigated responses to attended and ignored prepulse stimuli.
Abstinent and nonabstinent smokers showed increased sustained potentiation of startle to contextual cues, compared to controls. Abstinent smokers showed increased fear-potentiated startle to threat cues, compared to nonsmokers. PPI did not discriminate between abstinent or nonabstinent smokers and controls.
These findings suggest that negative affectivity or anxiety is associated with smoking, particularly during short withdrawal. Potentiated startle may provide a valuable tool in understanding the biologic mechanisms underlying nicotine withdrawal and inform cessation and prevention efforts.
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Published online: June 02, 2007
Accepted: December 19, 2006
Received in revised form: December 7, 2006
Received: August 22, 2006
© 2007 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.