Self-control, negative affect and neural activity during effortful cognition in deprived smokers

Stephen J. Wilson, Michael A. Sayette, Julie A. Fiez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The vast majority of attempts to quit smoking cigarettes are unsuccessful. Negative affect (NA) is one of the primary factors contributing to smoking relapse, in part because it interferes with psychological processes that are essential for self-regulation and coping. Converging evidence suggests that NA may be less of a problem for smokers with high relative to low dispositional self-control, but very little is known about the mechanisms that underlie this effect. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to address this issue by examining the associations between trait self-control, state levels of NA and patterns of brain activation in nicotine-deprived smokers (n1/4117) during the performance of a verbal n-back paradigm (a task requiring cognitive processes that support self-regulation). While the activation of several brain regions linked to executive control correlated positively and negatively with state NA and trait self-control, respectively, an interaction between these factors was identified in only one region: the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We conclude that the functions supported by the vmPFC are an important source of variability in smokers' self-regulatory functioning and propose that the region may contribute to the use of implicit forms of self-control under demanding circumstances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernst065
Pages (from-to)887-894
Number of pages8
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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