Nicotine modulation of information processing is not limited to input (attention) but extends to output (intention)

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 May;209(4):291-302. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-1788-9. Epub 2010 Mar 23.


Rationale: Nicotine influences many cognitive processes, especially those requiring high attentional loads, yet the impact of nicotine on all aspects of information processing has not been well delineated.

Objective: The aim of the study was to determine the relative behavioral and functional effects of nicotine on dissociable aspects of information processing (i.e., selective attention and motor intention).

Methods: Adult smokers (N = 25) and healthy controls (N = 23) performed the intention/attention task (IAT) twice, during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The IAT assesses the relative differences in performance evoked by prime stimuli that provide information regarding either the correct hand with which to respond (i.e., intentional primes) or the likely location of a target stimulus (i.e., attentional primes). Smokers were scanned 2 h after nicotine (21 mg) or placebo patch placement. The order of nicotine and placebo sessions was randomized and counter-balanced. Controls were also scanned twice, with no patch placement in either session.

Results: While drug condition had no significant effect on reaction time, smokers were overall more accurate than controls. Moreover, nicotine significantly increased the response to intentional primes in brain regions known to mediate response readiness, e.g., inferior parietal lobe, supramarginal gyrus, and striatum.

Conclusions: While limited to participant accuracy, these data suggest that the behavioral effects of nicotine in smokers are not only limited to information processing input (i.e., selective attention) but are also generalizable to output functions (i.e., motor intention). Moreover, nicotine's effects on intention appear to be mediated by a facilitation of function in brain regions associated with information processing output.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Adult
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / drug effects*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Reaction Time
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine