, Volume 235, Issue 8, pp 2315–2321 | Cite as

Tobacco smoking may delay habituation of reinforcer effectiveness in humans

  • Joshua L. KarelitzEmail author
  • Kenneth A. Perkins
Original Investigation



The effectiveness of nonconsummatory reinforcers habituate, as their ability to maintain reinforced responding declines over repeated presentations. Preclinical research has shown that nicotine can delay habituation of reinforcer effectiveness, but this effect has not been directly demonstrated in humans.


In preliminary translational research, we assessed effects of nicotine from tobacco smoking (vs. a no smoking control) on within-session patterns of responding for a brief visual reinforcer.


Using a within-subjects design, 32 adult dependent smokers participated in two experimental sessions, varying by smoking condition: no smoking following overnight abstinence (verified by CO ≤ 10 ppm), or smoking of own cigarette without overnight abstinence. Adapted from preclinical studies, habituation of reinforcer effectiveness was assessed by determining the rate of decline in responding on a simple operant computer task for a visual reinforcer, available on a fixed ratio schedule.


Reinforced responding and duration of responding were each significantly higher in the smoking vs. no smoking condition. The within-session rate of responding declined significantly more slowly during the smoking vs. no smoking condition, consistent with delayed habituation of reinforcer effectiveness. Follow-up analyses indicated that withdrawal relief did not influence the difference in responding between conditions, suggesting the patterns of responding reflected positive, but not negative, reinforcement.


These results are a preliminary demonstration in humans that smoked nicotine may attenuate habituation, thereby maintaining the effectiveness of a reinforcer over a longer period of access. Further research is needed to confirm habituation and rule out alternative causes of declines in within-session responding.


Nicotine Reinforcement Habituation Smoking 


Funding information

This research is based on a Master’s thesis conducted by JLK and presented at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in Florence, Italy. Research reported in this publication was supported by NIH Grants R01 DA035774 from NIDA (KAP) and T32 HL7560 (JLK). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that have conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, WPICUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA

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