Reitzel et al. [1] have reported recently that subjective social status predicts relapse during acute nicotine withdrawal, an effect mediated partially by an increase of depressive mood. This is a proximate mechanism that partially explains relapse. The ultimate explanation for relapse could lie in two adaptation mechanisms of evolutionary psychology, which provide a complementary level of analysis to that proposed by Reitzel et al. [2]. Assuming that low subjective social status increases a sense of environmental unpredictability, life history theory offers some insight into a possible adaptive mechanism at work. According to life history theory, organisms have finite resources; decisions must be made as to whether to invest more effort in survival, growth, current reproduction or future reproduction [3,4]. In an unpredictable or impoverished environment, where survival prospects are doubtful, there is steep discounting of future costs and hence a higher propensity to pursue immediately rewarding, but potentially dangerous, activities. Moreover, delay discounting is increased during nicotine deprivation [5], thereby decreasing the value and the self-perceived achievement likelihood of the smoking cessation goal. In another evolutionary psychology model, mood is understood as an adaptive mechanism that allocates effort proportional to propitiousness: if effort is likely to be wasted, low mood blocks investments. Depressive symptoms (fatigue, pessimism) serve to adjust to unattainable goals and conserve resources [6].

Thus, the sequence of low subjective social status–increased depressive mood during acute nicotine withdrawal–early relapse might ultimately be explained by referring to two different adaptive mechanisms of evolutionary psychology (i.e. life history theory and regulation of goal pursuit by emotions), as a complement to the proximate mechanisms proposed by Reitzel et al. [1].


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