Is all risk bad? Young adult cigarette smokers fail to take adaptive risk in a laboratory decision-making test

Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
Psychopharmacology (Impact Factor: 3.88). 02/2011; 215(4):801-11. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-011-2182-y
Source: PubMed


Cigarette smoking has been linked to real-world risky behavior, but this association has been based largely on retrospective self-reports. Limitations of self-report data can be avoided by using laboratory, performance-based measures, such as the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART; Lejuez et al., J Exp Psychol Appl 8:75-84, 2002). Initial studies have suggested that smokers display greater risk-taking on this task than nonsmokers, but these studies did not account for drug abuse and psychiatric comorbidities, which are commonplace among smokers.
We sought to examine the performance of smokers and nonsmokers on the BART after excluding drug abuse and psychiatric comorbidities.
We conducted a study of late adolescent/young adult (age 18 to 21) smokers (n = 26) and nonsmokers (n = 38) performing the BART and excluded individuals with positive drug or alcohol toxicology screens, substance abuse or dependence diagnoses, and/or current psychiatric conditions.
Contrary to previous findings, smokers did not display greater risk-taking on the BART than nonsmokers. In fact, when performance was examined trial-by-trial, the nonsmokers displayed progressively greater pumping relative to smokers over time (p < .001), earning them a nonsignificantly greater amount of money than the smokers. Controlling for smoking status, additional analyses revealed that pumping on the BART was positively associated with years of education, nonverbal IQ, and employment.
The results suggest that in young adults, smoking may be associated with a failure to take risks in situations where risk-taking is adaptive.

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    • "Gordon (2007) found BART to be uncorrelated with attitudes towards risky driving. Dean et al. (2011) found that smokers did not display greater risk taking on the BART than nonsmokers . Klassen (2010) found that the BART was unrelated to any of the alcohol consumption measures examined. "
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    • "This finding may be dependent on the current sample, as the Fernie and colleagues (2010) study sampled from a population of social drinkers in contrast to the problem drinkers recruited in the present study. However, a similar negative trend was observed between BART performance and risky behaviors in a sample of young adult cigarette smokers, where greater pumping was found to relate to positive traits (e.g., nonsmoking, employment, years of education, and higher IQ; Dean et al., 2011). . The negative relationship observed in the current model, as well as the findings by Dean and colleagues (2011), could potentially be a byproduct of the task, as the range of balloon pumps in the current sample was restricted, resulting in the higher pump values being associated with better outcomes on the task. "
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