Ambivalence about smoking and cue-elicited neural activity in quitting-motivated smokers faced with an opportunity to smoke.
Many cigarette smokers appear to experience ambivalence about smoking, defined as the simultaneous co-occurrence of a strong desire to smoke and a strong wish to quit smoking. Research suggests that this ambivalence about smoking affects how smokers respond to cigarette-related stimuli, but many important questions remain about precisely how smoking ambivalence influences cognitive and affective processing during cigarette cue exposure. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to address this knowledge gap by examining the relation between self-reported ambivalence about smoking and cue-reactivity in quitting-motivated smokers presented with an opportunity to smoke. Eighty-two quitting-motivated cigarette smokers completed a measure assessing their ambivalence about smoking. Subsequently, participants initiated an attempt to quit smoking and underwent an fMRI session, during which they were asked to hold and view a cigarette. Consistent with hypotheses, results indicated that self-reported smoking ambivalence was negatively correlated with cigarette-related activation in brain areas linked to reward-related processing, motivation, and attention (i.e., rostral anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, visual cortex). Self-reported ambivalence was not, however, correlated with activation in brain regions related to conflict processing. This pattern of results is discussed with respect to the process of change for those attempting to quit smoking.