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Addict Behav. 2004 Jan;29(1):107-26.

Cigarette smoking in a student sample: neurocognitive and clinical correlates.

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  • 1Brain, Behavior, and Cognition Program, Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02382, USA.


Why do adolescents begin to smoke in the face of profound health risks and aggressive antismoking campaigns? The present study tested predictions based on two theoretical models of tobacco use in young adults: (1) the self-medication model; and (2) the orbitofrontal/disinhibition model. Investigators speculated that a significant number of smokers were self-medicating since nicotine possesses mood-elevating and hedonic properties. The self-medication model predicts that smokers will demonstrate increased rates of psychopathology relative to nonsmokers. Similarly, researchers have suggested that individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) employ nicotine to enhance cognitive function. The ADHD/self-medication model predicts that smokers will perform poorly on tests of executive function and report a greater number of ADHD symptoms. A considerable body of research indicates that tobacco use is associated with several related personality traits including extraversion, impulsivity, risk taking, sensation seeking, novelty seeking, and antisocial personality features. Antisocial behavior and related personality traits as well as tobacco use may reflect, in part, a failure to effectively employ reward and punishment cues to guide behavior. This failure may reflect orbitofrontal dysfunction. The orbitofrontal/disinhibition model predicts that smokers will perform poorly on neurocognitive tasks considered sensitive to orbitofrontal dysfunction and will obtain significantly higher scores on measures of behavioral disinhibition and antisocial personality relative to nonsmokers. To test these predictions, we administered a battery of neuropsychological tests, clinical scales, and personality questionnaires to university student smokers and nonsmokers. Results did not support the self-medication model or the ADHD/self-medication model; however, findings were consistent with the orbitofrontal/disinhibition model.

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