According to a new research study, when a young adult quits smoking, personality improvements may also occur.
“The data indicate that for some young adults smoking is impulsive,” said Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Missouri.
“That means that 18-year-olds are acting without a lot of forethought and favor immediate rewards over long term negative consequences. They might say, ‘I know smoking is bad for me, but I’m going to do it anyway.’
“However, we find individuals who show the most decreases in impulsivity also are more likely quit smoking. If we can target anti-smoking efforts at that impulsivity, it may help the young people stop smoking.”
In the study, MU researchers compared people, aged 18-35, who smoked with those who had quit smoking.
They found that individuals who smoked were higher in two distinct personality traits during young adulthood:
- Impulsivity – acting without thinking about the consequences
- Neuroticism – being emotionally negative and anxious, most of the time
Likewise, those with higher levels of impulsivity and neuroticism were more likely to engage in detrimental behaviors, such as smoking.
However, Littlefield also found that those who quit smoking had the biggest declines in impulsivity and neuroticism from ages 18 to 25.
“Smokers at age 18 had higher impulsivity rates than non-smokers at age 18, and those who quit tended to display the steepest declines in impulsivity between ages 18 and 25,” Littlefield said.
“However, as a person ages and continues to smoke, smoking becomes part of a regular behavior pattern and less impulsive.
“The motives for smoking later in life – habit, craving, loss of control and tolerance – are key elements of smoking dependence and appear to be more independent of personality traits.”
Despite the evidence from this study, substance use is still a complex relationship of genetic and environmental factors, Littlefield said.
The study, “Smoking Desistance and Personality Change in Emerging and Young Adulthood,” has been accepted by the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Source: University of Missouri