Date of Award



Biological Sciences

Faculty Advisor

Gilbert, David G.


Saccadic eye movement tasks like the antisaccade task (AST) have been used to assess impulsivity and response inhibition in a variety of populations, including tobacco-abstinent smokers. Previous studies using ASTs have shown nicotine to reduce reaction times (RTs) possibly reinforcing the habit of smoking. Research also shows nicotine to reduce attention to and distraction by emotionally negative stimuli, which may account for some of the ability of nicotine to reduce negative affect. The present study was the first to assess the interactive effects of nicotine, emotional priming and emotional target stimuli on AST performance in nonsmokers. Ten male and 14 female college student nonsmokers wore a nicotine and placebo patch on separate, counterbalanced, days during which they performed ASTs. The ASTs consisted of sequences with a prosaccade or antisaccade cue followed by an emotional priming picture and emotional target face. Findings revealed an expected main effect of Saccade Type such that reaction times (RTs) were longer (slower) in antisaccade trials compared to prosaccade trials and an overall RT shortening (speeding) effect of nicotine compared to placebo. The effects of Drug interacted with Saccade type, such that nicotine speeded RTs on antisaccade trials more than on prosaccade trials. However, most importantly, both Prime Valence and Target Valence moderated the effects of nicotine in poor baseline-performing individuals, but not others, such that nicotine decreased RTs most during negative prime with the negative target condition, relative to other prime-target combinations. These findings support the view that emotional primes and targets can be important modulators of an inherent ability of nicotine to modulate cognitive and/or affective processes in poor baseline performing nonsmokers.


I would like to thank Dr. Gilbert for all of the guidance and support he has provided on this project.