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Quitting Smoking May Improve Personality, Study Suggests

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Aside from the well-known health benefits of quitting smoking, new research suggests that people who kick the habit may improve their personalities as well.

Researchers from the University of Missouri found that smoking is a trigger for impulsivity (acting without thinking) and neuroticism (often being emotionally negative and anxious) among adults under the age of 35. Those who stop smoking, however, can lose these unfavorable traits and improve their personality, the study suggested.

In comparing smokers ranging in age from 18 to 35 years with their peers who had quit smoking, the researchers found that the smokers were more impulsive and neurotic. In addition, they noted that young people with higher levels of impulsivity and neuroticism were more likely to engage in detrimental behaviors, such as smoking.

The researchers concluded that anti-smoking campaigns targeting smokers' impulsivity may be effective on young adults.

"The data indicate that for some young adults smoking is impulsive," Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral student in the psychology department at the College of Arts and Science, explained in a University of Missouri news release. "That means that 18-year-olds are acting without a lot of forethought and favor immediate rewards over long-term negative consequences. They might say, 'I know smoking is bad for me, but I'm going to do it anyway.' However, we find individuals who show the most decreases in impulsivity also are more likely to quit smoking. If we can target anti-smoking efforts at that impulsivity, it may help the young people stop smoking."

The study, slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, revealed that after quitting, the smokers saw declines in these personality traits, particularly those aged 18 to 25. As smokers age, the authors noted, their reasons for smoking go beyond impulsivity and the habit becomes part of a regular pattern of behavior.

"The motives for smoking later in life -- habit, craving, loss of control and tolerance -- are key elements of smoking dependence and appear to be more independent of personality traits," said Littlefield.

However, like other forms of substance abuse, smoking involves a complex relationship of genetic and environmental factors, he noted. Littlefield plans to research this topic further by studying the genetic influences on personality and alcohol consumption.

More information

The American Cancer Society provides a guide on quitting smoking.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Sept. 12, 2011

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