Recent data reveal that smoking initiation during adolescence may be dependent on parental smoking behaviors (e.g., Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA, 2008]). This is of critical concern as approximately half of children worldwide are living with parents who smoke (European Environment and Health Information System [ENHIS], 2007). Therefore, it is critical to design effective evidence-based interventions that consider the developmental mechanisms through which this association evolves. With this in mind, AIM 1 of this proposal seeks to examine implicit processing biases toward smoking- related stimuli in a sample of 8-11 year old children as a function of parental smoking behaviors. This is of particular importance because research has shown that such processing biases may cause individuals to become more easily aware of smoking-related cues within their environment (e.g., Fehr, Wiedenmann, &Herrmann, 2007), which may lead to later smoking initiation. Children's attention to smoking-related cues relative to neutral cues will be measured using a behavioral paradigm (i.e., dot probe). Additionally, a physiological measure of attention, the P3 component of the electroencephalography (EEG), will be used, due to its sensitivity to the motivational significance of stimuli (Bartholow &Dickter, in press). Based on evidence from a pilot study conducted in our laboratory that suggests that there is a relationship between parental smoking and relative attention to smoking-related pictures, we hypothesize that, compared to children who come from non-smoking households, children who have a parent who smokes will show greater implicit attention to the smoking-related stimuli. In addition to attention, this study will also examine the motivational state that a smoking stimulus evokes, as it may affect children's propensity to engage in smoking behavior. Thus, the goal of AIM 2 of the proposed project will be to use the physiological data obtained in AIM 1 to analyze frontal hemispheric asymmetry to assess approach-avoidance motivation to smoking-related stimuli. We will also behaviorally assess the children's tendency to approach and avoid smoking-related stimuli using a behavioral approach-avoidance task (AAT) designed for children. We hypothesize that children who have at least one smoking parent will be more likely to approach smoking-related stimuli than those from non-smoking households. The proposed research represents an important addition to the literature because it addresses how early exposure to smoking behavior in the home can lead to attention to and motivational tendencies towards smoking-related cues through the assessment of multiple domains. Furthermore, it investigates this mechanism in an age group of children for whom smoking is unlikely but attitudes that predict initiation are in transition. This research will provide the foundation for future longitudinal studies to determine whether changes in cue reactivity predict smoking initiation, which will inform treatment and prevention efforts.

Public Health Relevance

Because the likelihood that children will engage in smoking behavior is influenced by their parents'smoking habits and attitudes, it is important to understand the developmental mechanisms involved in this relationship in order to develop effective evidence-based interventions. Although cue reactivity may be an important mechanism through which this relationship occurs, it has not yet been investigated in children. Therefore, the goal of the proposed project is to examine multiple domains of cue reactivity in 8-11 year-old children by employing behavioral and psycho physiological measures to determine whether exposure to parental smoking behavior affects children's implicit attention toward and their motivations to approach or avoid smoking-related cues.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Haverkos, Lynne
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
College of William and Mary
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Dickter, Cheryl L; Forestell, Catherine A; Hammett, Patrick J et al. (2014) Relationship between alcohol dependence, escape drinking, and early neural attention to alcohol-related cues. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 231:2031-40