In this study, we examined the relationship between the level of daily cigarette consumption and the startle response to affective and cigarette-related cues among treatment-seeking smokers. Before receiving any behavioral or pharmacological treatment, 136 smokers attended a baseline laboratory session, during which we recorded their reflexive eyeblink responses to acoustic startle probes while they were viewing pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, and cigarette-related pictures. We found that 1) cigarette-related and pleasant pictures similarly reduced the startle magnitude compared to neutral pictures; 2) the magnitude of startle modulation rendered by pleasant or unpleasant pictures did not differ among light, moderate, and heavy smokers; and 3) startle attenuation by cigarette-related pictures was greater in heavy smokers than in light smokers. These results suggest that similar to pleasant stimuli, cigarette-related cues are motivationally salient for smokers, and that this salience increases with nicotine dependence.
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