Behavioral Economic Analysis of Cue-Elicited Craving for Tobacco: A Virtual Reality Study
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INTRODUCTION: Subjective craving is a prominent construct in the study of tobacco motivation; yet, the precise measurement of tobacco craving poses several difficulties. A behavioral economic approach to understanding drug motivation imports concepts and methods from economics to improve the assessment of craving. METHODS: Using an immersive virtual reality (VR) cue reactivity paradigm, this study tested the hypothesis that, compared with neutral cues, tobacco cues would result in significant increases in subjective craving and diverse aspects of demand for tobacco in a community sample of 47 regular smokers. In addition, the study examined these motivational indices in relation to a dual-component delay and cigarette consumption self-administration paradigm. RESULTS: In response to the VR tobacco cues, significant increases were observed for tobacco craving and the demand indices of Omax (i.e., maximum total expenditure toward cigarettes) and Breakpoint (i.e., price at which consumption is completely suppressed), whereas a significant decrease was observed for Elasticity (i.e., lower cigarette price sensitivity). Continuous analyses revealed trend-level inverse associations between Omax and Intensity in relation to delay duration and significant positive associations between subjective craving, Omax, and Elasticity in relation to the number of cigarettes purchased. CONCLUSIONS: The results from this study provide further evidence for the utility of behavioral economic concepts and methods in understanding smoking motivation. These data also reveal the incremental contribution of behavioral economic indices beyond subjective craving in predicting in vivo cigarette consumption. Relationships to previous studies and methodological considerations are discussed.
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