A new study from University of Pittsburgh has shown that craving for a cigarette causes the mind to wander without the person realising that his concentration is affected.
In the study involving 44 male and female heavy smokers, researchers showed that craving hinders an individual's meta-awareness, the ability to periodically appraise one's own thoughts.
The participants were assigned at random to either a crave-condition or low-crave group.
Those in the latter group were permitted to smoke throughout the study; members of the crave-condition group had to abstain.
Participants were asked to read as many as 34 pages of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" from a computer screen. If they caught themselves zoning out, they pressed a key labeled ZO. Every few minutes, a tone sounded, and they were asked via the computer, "Were you zoning out?" to which they responded by pressing a "Yes" or "No" key. After 30 minutes, a reading comprehension test was administered.
Although both groups were prompted a similar number of times, the people craving cigarettes acknowledged more mind-wandering episodes-three times as many, in fact- as those in the low-crave group.
"Researchers have known for a while that cigarette craving can interfere with our powers of concentration," said Pitt professor of psychology Michael Sayette.
"But, similar to what we found in a previous study about the impaired concentration of people who drank, this 'double whammy' (i.e., more zoneouts that take longer to recognize) may explain why craving often disrupts efforts to exercise self-control-a process requiring the ability to become aware of your current state in order to regulate it," he added.
The research is published in the January issue of "Psychological Science."