The restorative effects of smoking upon self-control resources: a negative reinforcement pathway

J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 Feb;121(1):244-9. doi: 10.1037/a0023032. Epub 2011 Mar 7.


Based on a model in which self-control (SC) is considered to be a limited resource, research suggests that diminished SC resources may increase the likelihood of tobacco smoking. Yet, the inverse--how smoking may influence SC resources--has not been tested. The authors of this study utilized a randomized, 2 × 2 crossed-factorial (SC Depletion Manipulation × Smoking Manipulation), between-subjects design to test the hypothesis that smoking restores depleted SC resources. To manipulate SC depletion, experimenters instructed half of 132 nicotine dependent smokers to suppress their emotional reaction to a brief video depicting environmental damage (i.e., depletion), whereas the other half were instructed to "act natural" (i.e., no depletion) during viewing. Half of the participants in each condition then smoked a cigarette, whereas the other half sat patiently without smoking (i.e., smoke vs. no smoke). All participants then completed behavioral measures of SC. As hypothesized, an interaction occurred between the depletion and smoking manipulations for duration of time spent on a frustrating mirror-tracing task. That is, depletion reduced persistence on the task, unless depletion was followed by smoking. This effect was mediated by positive affect (PA). Thus, smoking appeared to restore depleted SC resources via modulation of PA, but independent of negative affect or smoking urges. These findings suggest that restoration of SC resources may represent another means by which smoking is negatively reinforced. The application of the self-control strength model to the study of nicotine dependence may inform the development of novel treatment modalities.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Young Adult