Nicotine may help calm people by altering the activity of brain areas involved in the inhibition of negative emotions such as anger, a new study suggests.
The finding came from a study by University of California researchers that looked at whether nicotine patches affected how people responded when provoked.
The participants, all non-smokers, played a computer game alone but could see a video display of another player they believed to be their opponent. After each round of the game, the "victor" could give his defeated "opponent" a burst of unpleasant noise, with the duration and volume of the noise set by the winner.
In some of the participants, nicotine was associated with a reduced tendency to retaliate, even after being provoked by the imaginary opponent.
Changes in brain metabolism
"Participants who showed nicotine-induced changes in anger task performance also showed changes in brain metabolism," said study leader Jean Gehricke and colleagues. "Nicotine-induced reductions in length of retaliation were associated with changes in brain metabolism in response to nicotine in the brain areas responsible for orienting, planning and processing of emotional stimuli."
The findings support the theory that people with an angry disposition are more susceptible to the effects of nicotine and at greater risk of becoming addicted to cigarettes, the researchers said.
"Novel behavioural treatments that affect the cortical and limbic brain areas, like anger management training, may aid smoking cessation efforts in anger-provoking situations that increase withdrawal and tobacco cravings," the researchers concluded.
The study appears in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions.