Moderation of nicotine effects on covert orienting of attention tasks by poor placebo performance and cue validity

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Introduction and rationale:Given baseline-dependent effects of nicotine on other forms of attention, there is reason to believe that inconsistent findings for the effects of nicotine on attentional orienting may be partly due to individual differences in baseline (abstinence state) functioning. Individuals with low baseline attention may benefit more from nicotine replacement.Method:The effects of nicotine as a function of baseline performance (bottom, middle, and top third of mean reaction times during placebo) were assessed in 52 habitual abstinent smokers (26 females/26 males) utilizing an arrow-cued covert orienting of attention task.Results:Compared to a placebo patch, a 14 mg nicotine patch produced faster overall reaction times (RTs). In addition, individuals with slower RTs during the placebo condition benefitted more from nicotine on cued trials than did those who had shorter (faster) RTs during placebo. Nicotine also enhanced the validity effect (shorter RTs to validly vs. invalidly cued targets), but this nicotine benefit did not differ as a function of overall placebo-baseline performance.Conclusions:These findings support the view that nicotine enhances cued spatial attentional orienting in individuals who have slower RTs during placebo (nicotine-free) conditions; however, baseline-dependent effects may not generalize to all aspects of spatial attention. These findings are consistent with findings indicating that nicotine's effects vary as a function of task parameters rather than simple RT speeding or cognitive enhancement.HighlightsThere are inconsistent findings for the effects of nicotine on attentional orienting.This may be due in part to individual differences in baseline (abstinence state) functioning.We found that individuals with poorer placebo-baseline attention benefit more from nicotine.Nicotine also enhanced the validity effect (shortened responses to validly cued targets).Our findings provide some support for baseline dependency of nicotine's attentional effects.

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