Self-Control Strength and Smoking Cessation: Using Basic Science to Inform Prevention
Year of Publication
Society for Prevention Research (SPR) 23rd Anual Meeting
Introduction: The self-control strength model suggests that individuals have a limited resource- self control strength, to use for various volitional exertions such as resisting temptations. Exerting self-control consumes or depletes this resource. As a result subsequent attempts at self-regulation are impaired. This model is particularly useful for understanding addictions, and how the social environment contributes to the likelihood of succeeding at self-control tasks such as smoking cessation. Methods: Three controlled randomized experiments tested the self-control strength model, to identify the role of self-control strength in smoking behavior. In Study 1 smokers’ self-control strength was depleted by resisting a tempting plate of desserts and their subsequent smoking behavior was then assessed. Study 2 involved depleting participants’ self-control by having them resist the urge to smoke when exposed to smoking scenes in films and then examining their subsequent smoking behavior. In the first two studies participants who depleted their self-control resources on the initial task were more likely to crave cigarettes and to smoke than those in the control conditions. Study 3 replicated these findings and tested whether positive emotions could counteract the effects of depletion. Results: Results of Study 1 demonstrated that those whose self-control resources were depleted were more likely to smoke during a subsequent break than smokers whose self-control were not depleted. In Study 2, the odds of smoking during a break in those smokers who watched the film with smoking scenes was over three times higher than that in smokers who watched a similar but smoke-free film montage. Assessing environmental cues that young adults experience in their daily lives (e.g., smoking paraphernalia at home or work, exposure to media) may assist in increasing their successful smoking cessation. Results of Study 3 demonstrated that smokers who were depleted (by resisting tempting desserts) but then experienced a positive affect induction by watching a funny video, were less likely to smoke compared with depleted participants who watched a neutral video. Conclusions: Findings from the first study support the US Tobacco Treatment Guidelines, which discourage dieting during smoking cessation attempts. Findings from this series of studies have practical implications for smokers who are trying to quit and who have other self-control demands. This is a particularly important issue to recognize in prevention programs since studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of tobacco users engage in at least one additional self-control related risk behavior, such as poor diet and physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, or illicit drug use.