Stability of Emotional Response in Adolescent Smokers and Nonsmokers: A Longitudinal Analysis
Conrad, Megan F.
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Despite the high prevalence of cigarette smoking among adolescents, we have yet to fully understand the relationship between the development of nicotine dependence and emotion regulation over time. Extant literature indicates that, like adults, adolescents initially smoke to relieve stress and negative affect. It remains unclear, however, whether smoking is effective in reducing negative emotion among newer smokers, both in the short- and long-term. The overall goal of the present study, then, was to determine whether the affective benefits derived from smoking change over time in adolescent smokers and whether the development of nicotine dependence might relate to these changes. For smokers, we anticipated that emotional response would increase across visits, though the affective pattern would remain stable. Further, we hypothesized that change in nicotine dependence would moderate emotional response over time such that those with increased nicotine dependence would experience less affective benefit from a single cigarette over time, and therefore, exhibit greater emotional response at Visit 3. In contrast to this hypothesized temporal pattern for smokers, we anticipated that emotional response would decrease over time for neversmokers, though the affective pattern would remain stable. We also hypothesized that emotional response would be reliable across sessions, such that emotional response at the matched session would predict similar responses at Visit 3. Findings were mixed: while there were expected results in terms of affective patterns in startle eyeblink response (SER), skin conductance (SC), and heart rate (HR), emotional response over time was less reliable. For both smokers and neversmokers, SER latency, or speed, was greater at the first session than the second, which indicates less response to affective images over time and contradicts findings from all other measures, though this might be due to its relative unreliability. Further, change in nicotine dependence predicted average SC level and moderated emotional response over time as indexed by average HR only. Still, we were able to confirm previous research in both adolescents and adults regarding affective patterns in psychophysiological measures while continuing to ask questions about the association between the development of nicotine dependence and emotional response over time. This relationship remains unclear and in need of further research, as it seems an important piece of the theoretical puzzle surrounding escalation to continued and chronic cigarette smoking.