Behavioural tasks sensitive to acute abstinence and predictive of smoking cessation success: a systematic review and meta-analysis: Behavioural tasks and smoking

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Background and aims

Performance on cognitive tasks may be sensitive to acute smoking abstinence and may also predict whether quit attempts fail. Our aim was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to identify cognitive tasks sensitive to acute abstinence and predictive of smoking cessation success.


Embase, Medline, PsycInfo and Web of Science were searched up to March 2016. Studies were included if they enrolled adults and assessed smoking using a quantitative measure. Studies were combined in a random effects meta-analysis.


We included 42 acute abstinence studies and 13 cessation studies. There was evidence for an effect of abstinence on delay discounting [d = 0.26, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.07–0.45, P = 0.005], response inhibition (d = 0.48, 95% CI = 0.26–0.70, P < 0.001), mental arithmetic (d = 0.38, 95% CI = 0.06–0.70, P = 0.018), and recognition memory (d = 0.46, 95% CI = 0.23–0.70, P < 0.001). In contrast, performance on the Stroop (d = 0 .17, 95% CI = −0.17–0.51, P = 0.333) and smoking Stroop (d = 0.03, 95% CI = −0.11–0.17, P = 0.675) task was not influenced by abstinence. We found only weak evidence for an effect of acute abstinence on dot probe task performance (d = 0.15, 95% CI = −0.01–0.32, P = 0.072). The design of the cessation studies was too heterogeneous to permit meta-analysis.


Compared with satiated smokers, acutely abstinent smokers display higher delay discounting, lower response inhibition, impaired arithmetic and recognition memory performance. However, reaction-time measures of cognitive bias appear to be unaffected by acute tobacco abstinence. Conclusions about cognitive tasks that predict smoking cessation success were limited by methodological inconsistencies.

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