EEG measures of brain activity reveal that smoking-related images capture the attention of smokers outside of awareness.
The capture of attention by substance-related stimuli in dependent users is a major factor in the maintenance and/or cessation of substance use. The present study examined the automaticity of this process in smokers, as well as the effects of craving. Event-related potential (ERP) measures of spatial-attention allocation (N2pc) and extended target processing (SPCN) were isolated during an object-substitution masking (OSM) task that disrupted the perceptual visibility of smoking-related and office-related targets. Each participant completed two experimental sessions: one in which they were deprived of nicotine for a period of several hours prior to the session (craving), and one before which they were allowed to smoke (non-craving). Results were consistent with an account of automatic attentional capture by smoking-related images outside of awareness, with masked trials yielding a selective enhancement of the attention-sensitive N2pc in response to these images, but in the absence of a corresponding behavioral enhancement on those trials. Finally, the manipulation of craving appeared to increase the overall task demand, yielding an enhancement of the SPCN component across target type and masking conditions. Together, these results suggest that smoking-related visual stimuli in the environment can capture the attention of smokers outside of awareness, in what seems to be an automatic process.
Harris, JA; Donohue, SE; Ilse, A; Ariel Schoenfeld, M; Heinze, H-J; Woldorff, MG
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