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Research Overview

image of health-related behavior, drug addiction, and cigarette smoking interlocking circles

We study behaviors that have a negative impact on health, such as drug use and addiction, with a particular interest in cigarette smoking and nicotine dependence.

Here in the Addiction Smoking and Health (ASH) Laboratory, we study addiction and other types of behavior that have a negative impact on health. A large portion of our research focuses on cigarette smoking. Most people who smoke cigarettes report that they would like to stop, but very few people who make such an attempt are successful. This is an incredibly important issue, as cigarette smoking remains one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world. Through the studies conducted in the ASH Lab, we hope to provide new insight into why it is so hard for people to quit using cigarettes and, in turn, to devise ways to use this information to advance the treatment of smoking.

Our work is interdisciplinary: We combine theory and methods from psychology, neuroscience, and field research. Thematically, our work is organized around three related questions. First, what are the neurobiological and psychological mechanisms underlying relapse in those trying to quit smoking? Second, how do certain individual differences (e.g., sex, personality traits) make people more or less successful at quitting smoking? Third, what are the best strategies to teach people to make them more successful when trying to quit smoking? Although much of our research concentrates on cigarette smoking, it has implications for the understanding and treatment of addiction and other behaviors that damage health.

Research in the ASH Lab has been supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Cancer Institute, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Topics explored in recent studies include:

  • Using brain responses to non-drug rewards (e.g., money) to predict relapse-related behavior in smokers
  • Characterizing the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to sex differences in smoking behavior
  • Investigating the utility of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) neurofeedback as a tool to facilitate smoking cessation
  • Exploring cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms associated with individual differences in nicotine dependence among light and intermittent smokers
  • Integrating functional brain imaging (i.e., fMRI) and ecological momentary assessment methods to study and treat cigarette addiction