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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Feb;213(4):781-9. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2033-2. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

Conditioned cues for smoking elicit preparatory responses in healthy smokers.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Würzburg, Marcusstr. 9-11, 97070 Würzburg, Germany.



Smoking cues are theorized to be conditioned stimuli (CSs) formed by repeated pairing with drug. Smoking paraphernalia can elicit subjective and physiological responses in smokers, indicative of positive affect and motivation to consume. Although these responses are probably the result of conditioning, direct evidence from human conditioning studies with physiological measures of motivational valence is rare.


The present study investigated the motivational properties of experimentally conditioned cues for smoking.


Thirty-nine smokers completed a differential conditioning protocol. Abstract pictures were used as CSs and single puffs on a cigarette as unconditioned stimulus (US). Skin conductance responses and facial electromyography of the zygomatic, corrugator, and orbicularis oris muscles were measured during conditioning.


The conditioned cue for smoking (CS+) elicited stronger skin conductance responses and more activity of the zygomatic and orbicularis oris muscles than the CS-.


These results support the notion that through pairing with smoking, neutral stimuli acquire the ability to elicit preparatory physiological responses, which are assumed to play an important role in the maintenance of addiction and relapse in the natural environment.

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