Given the overwhelming evidence that smoking cigarettes dramatically increases one’s chances of getting cancer and heart disease, studies have often asked after the personality of a smoker. Is there a particular characteristic that makes one smoke in the face of such damning evidence? While previous research has suggested smokers are less risk averse, a new study argues they simply have poor self-control. In an experiment involving two stacked decks of cards, one of which occasionally produced a big payoff but inevitably lost all the player’s money, and another which slowing accrued a net gain in winnings, smokers were more likely to play the losing deck.
What’s the Big Idea?
The researchers behind this experiment claim that poor self-control can easily appear as risk-taking behavior. The study concludes that “it is not risk taking per se that drives smokers’ risky behavior; it’s a weakness for activities that are profitable most of the time yet hazardous eventually.” This knowledge, say researchers, may be helpful in developing more effective treatment strategies. “For example, hospitals and universities have started to ban smoking not only inside buildings but also at their perimeter, …imposing an additional short-term inconvenience on smoking.”