Researchers have been puzzled over the years why smokers – who well know their
habit endangers their health and that nicotine is addictive – often don’t want
to stop. It has long been thought they have a risk-taking personality that
dismisses the danger of cigarettes.
Around 22 percent of Israeli adults
smoke, and 10,000 die of direct and passive smoking in an average year. It is
the biggest cause of preventable death in the world.
University of Jerusalem and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers
have, through the simulation of games, found that smokers are mainly motivated
by an urge for instant gratification.
The research was recently published
in the open-access online journal PLOS ONE.
Previous studies have shown
that compared to nonsmokers, smokers are more likely to exhibit a variety of
other risky behaviors; for example, smokers tend to be more involved in traffic
accidents, are less likely to wear seat belts and are more likely to engage in
risky sexual behavior. Women smokers are 12% to 15% less likely to go for a
mammogram to detect breast cancer.
But the researchers thought there was
more to it, as smokers also show careful behavior. A total of 100 Technion
students (51 men and 49 women) were thus collected to participate in an
experiment. Participants were paid NIS 30 for showing up, plus a monetary bonus
earned in association with their performance. They earned on average about NIS
They had a number of decks of cards to choose from and were told in
advance that some decks were “worse” than others and that they should avoid
those decks to win the game.
The participants learned that a risky
alternative yields the best common outcomes; the results supported the assertion
that, similarly to high-functioning drug abusers, smokers could not resist
selecting from an alternative that yielded highly noticeable positive rewards,
even though it also produced large infrequent penalties resulting in an overall
The researchers concluded that smokers consistently exhibit less
selfcontrol; which leads them to make choices that are commonly rewarding but
may be risky on occasion.
“We don’t claim that smokers are unable to
control themselves or that’s the only reason for their smoking,” said Eyal Ert,
a senior lecturer of behavioral and management sciences at the Hebrew
University. “But the research shows a stronger tendency to focus on immediate
profit and not risk taking. We believe the finding is an important element in
understanding the factors that cause smoking.”