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The effects of smoking on selective attention as measured by startle reflex, skin conductance, and heart rate responses to auditory startle stimuli


  • This study was supported, in part, by the Provost's Award for Graduate Research awarded by the University of Illinois at Chicago to J. E. Greenstein. Portions of this article were presented at the 40th Annual Meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Chicago, Illinois, in 2006 and at the 47th annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Savannah, Georgia in 2007. We are grateful to the several research assistants who assisted with data collection.

Address reprint requests to: Jon D. Kassel, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Psychology, 1007 W. Harrison St., Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 1009, Chicago, IL 60607, USA. E-mail:


The present study examined the effects of cigarette smoking on attentional processing by measuring nondeprived smokers' (n=39), minimally deprived smokers' (n=36), and nonsmokers' (n=34) startle eyeblink reflex, heart rate, and skin conductance responses (SCR) to acoustic startle stimuli (105 dB) during directed attention tasks. Whereas smokers demonstrated smaller startle responses than nonsmokers during a directed attention visual task, no difference in startle response magnitude emerged between the two smoking groups, nor did we observe an effect of smoking on SCR or heart rate response to the startle stimuli. Our findings suggest that smokers differ from nonsmokers in their selective attention abilities and that smoking does not enhance minimally deprived smokers' selective attention.