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Trying to stop smoking: Effects of perceived addiction, attributions for failure, and expectancy of success


This paper reports the results of a postal questionnaire completed by 2343 smokers who had contacted a television company for help with stopping smoking. Of these, 1848 (78.9%) completed a follow-up questionnaire 1 year later. This indicated that 797 had tried to stop, 709 had tried to cut down, and 164 had become abstinent. Analyses show that the intention to try to stop smoking was dependent not only on the perceived health benefit, but also on the subjects' confidence that they would succeed if they tried to stop. As predicted by Weiner's [(1979). J. Educ. Psychol.71: 3–25] model of achievement motivation, those who attributed other smokers' failures at quitting to stable factors had lower expectancies of success, as had those who saw themselves as more addicted. When the follow-up data are considered, reported attempts at quitting were strongly related to previously declared intentions, and reported abstinence was related to previous confidence (expectancy of success) and perceived addiction. There is no support for hypotheses concerning self-other differences in attribution, or defensive attribution, in subjects' attributions for their own failures at cessation. Implications for antismoking interventions are discussed.

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This research was facilitated to various extents by grants from the British Council, the Department of Health and Social Security, the Medical Research Council, and the Social Science Research Council, London. When the data were collected, all authors were at the Addiction Research Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, University of London.

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Richard Eiser, J., van der Pligt, J., Raw, M. et al. Trying to stop smoking: Effects of perceived addiction, attributions for failure, and expectancy of success. J Behav Med 8, 321–341 (1985).

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Key words

  • addiction
  • attribution
  • expectations
  • intentions
  • smoking