Miss Emma Chapman

The application of training a restrained mental set to reduce cigarette-seeking behaviour

Emma Chapman completed her BSc (Hons) Psychology degree at the University of East London (UEL) in 2012, which included working on a research project which was subsequently published: Soar, K., Chapman, E., Lavan, N., Jansari, A. S., & Turner, J. J. D. (2016). Investigating the effects of caffeine on executive functions using traditional Stroop and a new ecologically-valid virtual reality task, the Jansari assessment of executive functions (JEF). Appetite: Multidisciplinary Research on Eating and Drinking, 105, 156-163. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.05.021.  Since graduating Emma has been conducting research at UEL, as part of her MPhil on the effects of response inhibition training on cigarette-seeking behaviour which she has recently submitted.

Aims:   During nicotine abstinence smokers experience deficits in response inhibition (RI); this may leave smokers vulnerable to relapse as they may struggle to inhibit the automatic impulse to smoke.  The current study aims to investigate whether training a restrained mental set in nicotine-satiated smokers influences cigarette-seeking behaviour (CSB); both in the laboratory and following a longer period outside the laboratory.

Method:  Using a between subject ‘s design, twenty-six nicotine-satiated smokers (17 female; aged 18-53 years) were trained using restrained (focus on cautious responding) or disinhibited (focus on rapid responding) instructions on a stop-signal task (SST).  The impact of this on CSB was measured through responsivity to cigarette/money rewards (Card Arranging Reward-Responsivity Objective test; CARROT), the reinforcement value of cigarettes at increasing prices (Cigarette Purchase task; CPT), and total cigarettes smoked across 24-hours pre- and post-SST.

Results:  RI training led to significantly enhanced RI capacity on the SST in the restrained condition. Restrained smokers went on to display increased restraint in response to both cigarette and monetary rewards (CARROT).  However, no significant differences were found between conditions on the CPT or total cigarettes smoked outside the laboratory.

Conclusion: Improving RI capacity may have some immediate restraining effects on the motivation to earn rewards generally.  However, consistent with the ego-depletion theory of self-control, this effect appears to degrade after the first RI exertion and may require strengthening over time through repeated training.


Dr Kirstie Soar, Professor John Turner, University of East London Dr Lynne Dawkins, London South Bank University