College students might want to think twice before lighting a cigarette: a new study shows that smoking during adolescence can affect cognition and decision-making.
UCLA researchers found that the pre-frontal cortex, which controls higher cognition, including the ability to make good decisions and think about future consequences, was less active in adolescents with greater addictions to nicotine, suggesting that smoking affects brain development and function.
“As the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development and affect the function of the prefrontal cortex,” Edythe London, the study’s senior author said, in a press release.
According to the 2007 National College Health Assessment for USC 3.3 percent of USC undergraduates and 2.6 percent of USC graduates smoke on a daily basis.
Furthermore, 13.9 percent of undergraduates and 10.2 percent of graduates reported they smoked, but not every day.
According to London, if the pre-frontal cortex’s development is affected, adolescents might have an impeded ability to make rational judgments, including the choice to stop smoking.
A smoker who does worry about the effects of smoking is Sung Won Lee, a PhD student studying electrical engineering.
“Smoking affects my focus and doesn’t make me concentrate,” Lee said. “My major concern is my health and finally, I’m going to quit.”
Students who smoke daily could experience serious effects in prefrontal cortex development and activation because of smoking.
Researchers do not know exactly what in cigarettes causes less activity in the pre-frontal cortex.
“It seems to be nicotine. But there are so many other toxins in cigarettes that we can’t be sure yet,” said Adriana Galvan, first author of the study.
How much smoking will impair adolescents’ abilities to make decisions is unclear as of now and cannot be addressed without further research.
“We will need to follow teenagers who smoke for several years and then bring them in for tests to see,” Galvan said. “We are developing this process now.”