Investigating the impact of nicotine on executive functions using a novel virtual reality assessment


Correspondence to: Ashok Jansari, School of Psychology, University of East London, Water Lane, London E15 4LZ, UK. E-mail:



Nicotine is known to enhance aspects of cognitive functioning in abstinent smokers, but the effects on specific areas of executive functions and in non-smokers are inconclusive. This may be due in part to the poor sensitivity of tests used to assess executive functions. This study used a new virtual reality assessment of executive functions known as JEF (the Jansari assessment of Executive Functions) to address this issue.


A 2 × 2 design manipulating group (smokers and never-smokers) and drug [nicotine (4 mg for smokers; 2 mg for never smokers) versus placebo gum].


School of Psychology; University of East London


Seventy-two participants (aged 18–54 years): 36 minimally deprived (2 hours) smokers and 36 never-smokers.


Components of executive function were measured using the virtual reality paradigm JEF, which assesses eight cognitive constructs simultaneously as well as providing an overall performance measure.


Univariate analyses of variance revealed that nicotine improved overall JEF performance, time-based prospective memory and event-based prospective memory in smokers (P < 0.01), but not in never-smokers. Action-based prospective memory was enhanced in both groups (P < 0.01) and never-smokers out-performed smokers on selective thinking and adaptive thinking (P < 0.01).


Executive functioning and prospective memory as aspects of cognitive performance can be enhanced by nicotine gum in smokers who have abstained for as little as 2 hours.