Executive function fails to predict smoking outcomes in a clinical trial to motivate smokers to quit.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.01.043; PMCID: PMC5425305


BACKGROUND: Executive function (EF) is considered an important mediator of health outcomes. It is hypothesized that those with better EF are more likely to succeed in turning their intentions into actual health behaviors. Prior studies indicate EF is associated with smoking cessation. Experimental and longitudinal studies, however, have yielded mixed results. Few studies have examined whether EF predicts post-treatment smoking behavior. Fewer still have done so prospectively in a large trial. We sought to determine if EF predicts quit attempts and cessation among community smokers in a large randomized trial evaluating the efficacy of motivational interventions for encouraging cessation.

METHODS: Participants (N=255) completed a baseline assessment that included a cognitive battery to assess EF (Oral Trail Making Test B, Stroop, Controlled Oral Word Association Test). Participants were then randomized to 4 sessions of Motivational Interviewing or Health Education or one session of Brief Advice to quit. Quit attempts and cessation were assessed at weeks 12 and 26.

RESULTS: In regression analyses, none of the EF measures were statistically significant predictors of quit attempts or cessation (all ps>0.20).

CONCLUSIONS: Our data did not support models of health behavior that emphasize EF as a mediator of health outcomes. Methodological shortcomings weaken the existing support for an association between EF and smoking behavior. We suggest methodological improvements that could help move this potentially important area of research forward.

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Drug and alcohol dependence



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MeSH Keywords

Adult; Executive Function; Female; Health Behavior; Humans; Intention; Male; Motivation; Motivational Interviewing; Patient Education as Topic; Prospective Studies; Regression Analysis; Smokers; Smoking; Smoking Cessation; Treatment Outcome


Clinical trial; Community sample; Executive function; Health education; Motivational interviewing; Smoking cessation

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