New Research Links Smoking to Personality Traits

Whether it is for stress relief or for purely social purposes, smoking has been popular among both those young and old regardless of gender.
Some have little trouble quitting while others have a constant craving.
Recent research by the UCI Medical Center revealed earlier last week the link between personality traits and nicotine addiction.
The research, led by Steven Potkin, professor of psychiatry and human behavior, calls this correlation a ‘born to smoke’ pattern.
‘Based on these dramatic brain responses to nicotine, if you have hostile, aggressive personality traits, in all likelihood, you have a predisposition to cigarettes without ever having touched a cigarette,’ Potkin said.
The experiment consisted of administering the Cook-Medley personality exam in which the research participants were subjected to placement in two different groups based on whether they had non-hostile or hostile personality traits.
‘We were concerned that [volunteers] for brain imaging might not be representative of the population,’ Potkin said. ‘To guard against this we used published norms to divide our subjects into high and low aggressive personality traits.’
According to Potkin, hostile traits include anger, aggression and anxiety.
Both groups included smokers and non-smokers.
After being placed in groups the subjects were given nicotine patches of 3.5 or 21 milligrams as well as placebo and later underwent PET scans to determine whether the nicotine triggered any responses in brain metabolism of glucose energy.
The research showed that while no metabolic changes occurred in the low-hostility group, the nicotine played a key role in significant metabolic responses within the hostile group.
In the high-hostility group, the 21-milligram patch was reacted to whereas the non-smokers reacted to both patches.
According to Potkin, the evidence that non-smokers in the high hostility group elicited a metabolic reaction to the nicotine patches suggests people with high-hostility personalities are more likely to become addicted to cigarettes.
He is also confident about the results of the study because of a lower margin of error.
‘We have used a more stringent statistica1 criteria for our work which means that one out of 40 times we will report a false positive,’ Potkin said. ‘The typical criteria for statistical significance is that one out of 20 results will be false.’
Potkin and Fallon are also looking into the possibility of gender playing a part in the popularity of cigarettes among men and women.
‘Literature supports the idea that men and women smoke at different rates, in different cultures and for different reasons,’ Fallon said. ‘Additionally there appears to be evidence that the way in which men and women smoke is different. [For example] how often and deeply they inhale.’
There is also unpublished research related to this topic that suggests that the brain metabolism of men and women is different and is differently affected by nicotine.
Fallon and Potkin’s team of researchers have been involved in nicotine research for the past five years as part of the Tobacco Use Research Center Initiative.
According to Fallon, the UCI TTURC is part of a national network of seven centers which are jointly funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
According to Fallon, the center’s major research focus is to identify key factors that underlie susceptibility to nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults.
Other research by the center show that adolescence is a time of particular nicotine sensitivity and vulnerability to cigarette dependence.
‘If you do not take up smoking by the time you’re 20, you are unlikely to do so,’ Fallon said.
People with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder who are treated with medication are also less likely to have a nicotine dependency.
The Brain Imaging Center was established 20 years ago to study normal brain function and dysfunction in illness.
For the past 10 years, the work of the UCI Brain Imaging Center has been a collaborative effort among researchers from the psychiatry, anatomy, neurobiology and other departments.
David Keator, James Mbgori and Jessica Turner from the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior also assisted with the study.