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New study documents relationship of approach / avoidance motivations with cigarette use

June 26, 2014

People are often motivated by a combination of approach (e.g., seeking rewards) and avoidance (e.g., preventing loss) concerns. However, some people are very sensitive to rewards and all but ignore threats, whereas other people all but ignore rewards and are very sensitive to threats. A team of researchers led by Psychology faculty at UTSA recently conducted a study aimed at finding out how such individual differences relate to cigarette use. The researchers measured how motivated each participant was to avoid threats (“behavioral inhibition”), to experience new things (“fun seeking”), to experience positive outcomes (“reward responsiveness”), and to persevere in pursuit of outcomes they had chosen (“drive”). The team reasoned that each of these would influence a different aspect of deciding whether to try cigarettes, continue smoking, or quit, and therefore that the patterns would be different for different types of smokers and non-smokers. High inhibition would both motivate people to avoid trying cigarettes and give smokers a reason to attempt to quit (i.e., to avoid the health risk). Fun seeking would influence motivation to try cigarettes (a new experience), reward responsiveness would influence motivation to keep smoking once the newness wore off, and drive would influence whether people who attempt to quit overcome the obstacles to successfully quitting. Thus people who had never tried cigarettes were expected to be high in inhibition and low in fun seeking (i.e., more motivated to avoid the health risk than to approach something new). People who tried cigarettes but stopped before forming a habit were expected to be average on inhibition, relatively high on fun seeking, and average on reward responsiveness. Former smokers were expected to be average on inhibition and high on fun seeking, but also to be high on reward responsiveness and drive. Current smokers were expected to be relatively high on fun seeking and reward responsiveness but low on inhibition (giving them less reason to try to quit), low on drive (making them less likely to succeed), or both. Most of the profiles were as predicted. Interestingly though, current smokers were low on all four characteristics, suggesting neither approach nor avoidance concerns motivated them.

The full findings are published in a forthcoming article at Addictive Behaviors, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.05.028

Baumann, M.R., Oviatt, D., Garza, R.T., Lopez, S.G., Gonzales-Blanks, A., Alexander-Delpech, P., Beason, F.A., Petrova, V.I., & Hale, W.J. (2014). Variation in BAS-BIS profiles across categories of cigarette use. Addictive Behaviors, 39, 1477-1483

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