Identifying neural mechanisms associated with addiction has substantially improved the overall understanding of addictive processes. Indeed, research suggests that drug-associated cues may take advantage of neural mechanisms originally intended for emotional processing of stimuli relevant to survival. In this study, we investigated cortical responses to several categories of emotional cues (erotic, romance, pleasant objects, mutilation, sadness, and unpleasant objects) as well as two types of smoking-related cues (people smoking and cigarette-related objects). We recorded ERPs from 180 smokers prior to their participation in a smoking cessation clinical trial and assessed emotional salience by measuring the amplitude of the late positive potential (LPP; 400 to 600 ms after picture onset). As expected, emotional and cigarette-related pictures prompted a significantly larger LPP than neutral pictures. The amplitude of the LPP increased as a function of picture arousal level, with high-arousing erotic and mutilation pictures showing the largest response in contrast to low-arousing pleasant and unpleasant objects, which showed the smallest response (other than neutral). Compared to females, male participants showed larger LPPs for high-arousing erotic and mutilation pictures. However, unlike emotional pictures, no difference was noted for the LPP between cigarette stimuli containing people versus those containing only objects, suggesting that in contrast to emotional objects, cigarette-related objects are highly relevant for smokers. We also compared the smokers to a small (N=40), convenience sample of never-smokers. We found that never-smokers had significantly smaller LPPs in response to erotic and cigarette stimuli containing only objects compared to smokers.
Keywords: ERP; Emotion; Event related potentials; LPP; Nicotine dependence; Smoking.
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