Date of this Version
Nebr Symp Motiv. 2009 ; 55: 111–129.
The collection of chapters in this 55th Nebraska Symposium on Motivation Volume clearly highlights that effective strategies for reducing compulsive tobacco use will require a multifaceted approach in which genetic, neurobiological, individual, and cultural factors are considered. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict where the next important breakthrough will come from (Bevins & Bardo, 2004; Dethier, 1966; Laidler, 1998). Accordingly, further research that extends and challenges current theory and practice at each of these levels of analysis is needed. The continuing focus of our research program, and the topic of the present chapter, is on the role of Pavlovian conditioning processes involving nicotine. Theoretical and empirical approaches to nicotine dependence that include Pavlovian conditioning processes have lead to important advances in our understanding and treatment of chronic tobacco use (e.g., see Rose, Chapter 8 and Tiffany, Warthen, & Goedecker, Chapter 10 in current Volume). These approaches conceptualize the drug as an unconditioned stimulus (US) or reinforcer. That is, the pharmacological effects of the drug (e.g., reward, analgesia, psychomotor stimulation) enter into an association with stimuli that reliably co-occur with these effects (e.g., paraphernalia, situational cues). Later exposure to these conditioned stimuli (CSs) can evoke conditioned responses (CRs) that increase the chances an individual will seek drug.
More recently, we have suggested that the interoceptive stimulus effects of nicotine might also serve as a CS for other appetitive non-drug outcomes (i.e., USs) and/or a stimulus that occasions whether other CS-US associations will or will not occur (i.e., an occasion setter or facilitator; see Bevins & Palmatier, 2004). We have further suggested that such an associative learning history could impact the tenacity of nicotine addiction—e.g., shorten the time between experimentation and dependence, increase the difficulty of quitting, make sustaining abstinence more difficult, etc. At the current time these suggestions are speculative. With this in mind, the present chapter will review the research in this area, as well as highlight some of its historical precursors and suggest some possible future directions for research. In doing so, hopefully the reader will gain an appreciation for how this approach might lead to further insight into how Pavlovian conditioning processes can alter the motivational function of nicotine in a manner that contributes to chronic tobacco use.