The proposed research focuses on the hypothesized overlap between the craving and reward experienced during nicotine addiction and the craving and reward experienced in social self-expansion in the context of close relationships. A series of two functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) experiments are proposed to examine whether nicotine and self-expansion (as elicited by novelty and challenge in the context of forming and maintaining close relationships) engage the same neural systems (namely the mesolimbic system, which utilize dopamineric pathways and include areas in the basal ganglia such as the caudate and the ventral segmental area) such that the reward of social self-expansion can substitute for the reward of nicotine and thus lower a smoker's craving for a cigarette. Study 1 will be conducted in China and Study 2 will be conducted in U.S. I chose these locations not only because of a successful previous study done in China, but because I believe in the importance of cross-cultural research, particularly in China where the smoking rate is significantly higher and where public knowledge of the dangers of smoking and smoking cessation programs are much less available. The theoretical foundation and procedural details of each study are grounded in previously conducted studies, yet the proposed research goes beyond anything previously done to bridge a gap between the the neural mechanisms of addiction and the social psychology of close relationships. I will conduct this research under the close supervision of Dr. Arthur Aron, an expert on social self-expansion and will consult with Dr. Lee Westmaas, an expert in nicotine addiction. Dr. Xuchu Weng, a neuroimaging and neuropsychology expert. Dr. Lucy Brown, an expert on the basal ganglia, and Dr. Rita Goldstein, an expert on neuroimaging and drug addiction. I believe this research has the potential to significantly advance basic scientific understanding in previous entirely untested ways for neuroscientists studying addictions and basal ganglia function and for social psychologists studying the motivational basis of addictions and relationship processes. This research will also determine the feasibility of a dramatically different, entirely novel approach to undermining addiction to nicotine. Thus, this research would benefit public health by examining basic processes that could lead to whole new methods for smoking cessation, including specifically testing one such method that would be easily accessible to many people, and one that could be implemented by the smokers themselves without need for medical personnel, prescriptions, or expensive facilities. Further, the method would be no to low cost and would also lead to relationship benefits for couples who choose to use it.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F11-B (20))
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Kautz, Mary A
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State University New York Stony Brook
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Stony Brook
United States
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Xu, Xiaomeng; Aron, Arthur; Westmaas, J Lee et al. (2014) An fMRI study of nicotine-deprived smokers' reactivity to smoking cues during novel/exciting activity. PLoS One 9:e94598
Xu, Xiaomeng; Wang, Jin; Aron, Arthur et al. (2012) Intense passionate love attenuates cigarette cue-reactivity in nicotine-deprived smokers: an FMRI study. PLoS One 7:e42235