Sex Differences in Time Perception During Smoking Abstinence

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Nicotine withdrawal leads to impulsive decision-making, which reflects a preference for smaller, immediate rewards and often prompts a relapse to smoking. The mechanism by which nicotine withdrawal leads to impulsive decision-making is not well known. An essential dimension of decision-making is time perception. Impulsive decisions reflect intolerance of temporal delays and the perception that time is passing more slowly. Sex may be an important factor in impulsive decision-making and time perception, but no studies have investigated whether sex moderates the effects of nicotine withdrawal on impulsive decision-making and time perception.


Thirty-three (12 female) adult smokers completed 2 laboratory sessions: following 24-hr abstinence and once smoking-as-usual (order counterbalanced, abstinence biochemically verified). Participants completed 2 time perception tasks, a decision-making task, and self-report measures of craving, withdrawal, and mood.


During time reproduction, males overestimated time during abstinence compared to smoking, whereas there was no session effect for females. On the time discrimination task, smokers were less accurate during abstinence, and this effect tended to be stronger among females. In general, males had higher discounting rates compared with females, but there was no effect of abstinence.


Conclusions: The current data suggest that the effect of abstinence on time perception may be stronger in males and that males generally exhibit steeper delay discounting rates. Time perception may be an important mechanism in smoking abstinence. Our future work will investigate the role of time perception in smoking relapse and whether this is moderated by sex.

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