Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Gilbert, David


A growing body of research is targeted towards explaining nicotine's numerous and complex effects on selective attention and other forms of attentional processing. However, when and how nicotine modulates attentional processing in the presence of emotional distractors is not well characterized, though potentially quite important given that, relative to nonsmokers, smokers exhibit higher levels of negative affect-related traits and psychological disorders related to negative affect. In this study, electroencephalography (EEG) and event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to better characterize the effects of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), relative to placebo, on distraction by emotional and smoking-related stimuli across 17 days of abstinence in dependent smokers. It was hypothesized that, relative to placebo, NRT would reduce ERP-indexed distraction (N170) and promote P3b-indexed task-related attention to target digits during a rapidly visual information processing task previously proven to be sensitive to the effects of NRT on attention. It was expected that the effects of valence on N170 to visual distractors and P3b to target digits would be greater in the placebo group than in the NRT group. Results demonstrated that NRT reduced distraction by visual distractors and increased neuroelectric response to target digits relative to placebo patch. Additionally, analyses revealed that the emotional valence of the visual distractors affected P3b response to targets, but did not affect N170-measured distraction during a sustained attention task. Aspects of the effect of NRT and nicotine-abstinence on top-down and bottom-up processes are discussed as possible mechanisms for the effect of nicotine on attention.




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