Initial nicotine sensitivity in humans as a function of impulsivity

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 Nov;200(4):529-44. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1231-7. Epub 2008 Jul 5.


Rationale: Impulsivity is related to greater risk of nicotine dependence, perhaps by enhancing sensitivity to nicotine's reinforcing and rewarding effects during initial smoking experiences.

Objective: We examined the influence of impulsivity characteristics on acute sensitivity to nicotine reward, reinforcement, and other effects in 131 young adult nonsmokers.

Materials and methods: Participants engaged in four sessions: the first three to assess dose-response effects of nasal spray nicotine (0, 5, 10 microg/kg) on reward, as well as mood, physiological, and performance effects, and the fourth to assess nicotine reinforcement using a choice procedure. Five impulsivity factors, derived from factor analysis of self-report (e.g., Barratt Impulsivity Scale, Sensation-Seeking Scale, Novelty seeking) and computer (stop-go, delay discounting, probability discounting) measures of impulsivity, were labeled "novelty seeking", "response disinhibition", "extraversion", "inhibition", and "probability/delay discounting".

Results: The associations of novelty seeking with nicotine reinforcement and reward tended to move in opposite directions by sex, generally being directly related in men but inversely or unrelated in women. Similarly, response disinhibition was associated with reward and some mood responses to nicotine that differed by sex. Extraversion was inversely associated with nicotine reinforcement. Characteristics loading on to the other impulsivity factors had little association with nicotine sensitivity.

Conclusions: These results are preliminary, but they suggest that characteristics broadly related to impulsivity, especially novelty seeking and response disinhibition, are associated with initial sensitivity to some effects of acute nicotine, including reinforcement and reward, and may do so differentially between men and women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Extraversion, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine