Is all risk bad? Young adult cigarette smokers fail to take adaptive risk in a laboratory decision-making test

Academic Article


  • Rationale Cigarette smoking has been linked to real-world risky behavior, but this association has been based largely on retrospective self-reports. Limitations of self-report data can be avoided by using laboratory, performance-based measures, such as the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART; Lejuez et al., J Exp Psychol Appl 8:75-84, 2002). Initial studies have suggested that smokers display greater risktaking on this task than nonsmokers, but these studies did not account for drug abuse and psychiatric comorbidities, which are commonplace among smokers. Objectives We sought to examine the performance of smokers and nonsmokers on the BART after excluding drug abuse and psychiatric comorbidities. Methods We conducted a study of late adolescent/young adult (age 18 to 21) smokers (n=26) and nonsmokers (n=38) performing the BART and excluded individuals with positive drug or alcohol toxicology screens, substance abuse or dependence diagnoses, and/or current psychiatric conditions. Results Contrary to previous findings, smokers did not display greater risk-taking on the BART than nonsmokers. In fact, when performance was examined trial-by-trial, the nonsmokers displayed progressively greater pumping relative to smokers over time (p<.001), earning them a nonsignificantly greater amount of money than the smokers. Controlling for smoking status, additional analyses revealed that pumping on the BART was positively associated with years of education, nonverbal IQ, and employment. Conclusions The results suggest that in young adults, smoking may be associated with a failure to take risks in situations where risk-taking is adaptive. © 2011 The Author(s).
  • Published In

  • Psychopharmacology  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Dean AC; Sugar CA; Hellemann G; London ED
  • Start Page

  • 801
  • End Page

  • 811
  • Volume

  • 215
  • Issue

  • 4