Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2004


Published in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3:3 (Sep 2004), 143-158. DOI: 10.1177/1534582304272005 Copyright © 2004 Sage Publications. Used by permission.


Compulsive smoking is a worldwide public health problem. Although research has confirmed the importance of associative learning processes in nicotine addiction, therapies targeting nicotine-associated cues still have a high relapse rate. Most theories conceptualize nicotine as an 'outcome' that reinforces behaviors and/or changes the affective value of stimuli. Albeit important, this view does not capture the complexity of associative processes involved in nicotine addiction. For example, nicotine serves as a conditional stimulus acquiring new appetitive/affective properties when paired with a non-drug reward. Also, nicotine functions as an occasion setter that participates in higher-order associative processes that likely permit a more pervasive influence of conditioned cues that are resistant to typically cue-exposure therapy techniques. Finally, nicotine appears to amplify the salience of other stimuli that have some incentive value resulting in enhanced nicotine self-administration and conditioned reinforcement processes. Future smoking intervention strategies should take into consideration these additional associative learning processes.