Mating Mindset Interferes With Attempts to Stop Smoking

Taiwanese researchers find photos of attractive women put men in an immediate-gratification state of mind.
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(Photo: DucDigital/Flickr)

(Photo: DucDigital/Flickr)

Guys: Trying to stop smoking? Well, here’s a tip: Avoid gazing at beautiful women.

A research team from Taiwan reports images of attractive females can stimulate “a mating mindset among male smokers.” The resultant focus on immediate gratification, the researchers argue in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, leads to “reduced control over cigarette consumption.”

If Nicolette isn’t interested in you, there’s always nicotine.

A research team from Taiwan reports images of attractive females can stimulate "a mating mindset among male smokers."

The issue is one of “temporal discounting,” writes a research team led by Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-sen University. That’s psychology speak for having “a preference for larger, distant rewards over smaller, immediate ones,” or vice-versa.

The focus on instant gratification, which varies from person to person, can be triggered in those who are susceptible to the lure. “We argue that male smokers may show increased temporal discounting, which is associated with yielding to the immediately satisfiable impulse to smoke,” the researchers write, adding that this attitude may be strengthened by images of attractive women.

To find out, they assembled a group of 76 male smokers (with a mean age of 31) “who intended to quit or reduce smoking.” Each was randomly assigned to rate the appeal (on a one-to-seven scale) of either highly attractive or less-attractive female faces.

After completing a task designed to “test reaction times to mating-related and neutral terms,” participants were asked to fill out several unrelated questionnaires. The experimenter told each that the process would take a half-hour or so, and then were "free to smoke if you want." Researchers measured whether, and how much, each participant did so by counting the number of butts left in their ashtray.

"Participants who had viewed attractive opposite-sex faces smoked more cigarettes than those who viewed less-attractive faces," they report. This suggests "thoughts of sex may be connected more closely with impulse-control behaviors such as smoking than previously thought."

These results aren't necessarily bad news. If an immediate-gratification mindset leads to more smoking, it's possible that "cues of experiences of promoting one's connection with one's future self" could have the opposite result, the researchers write.

In addition, for people trying to stop smoking, it's very useful to know what your potential triggers are so you can avoid them when possible. So if you're a guy trying to part with your Pall Malls, put away that Playboy. It'll just make things worse.

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