The Neuroeconomics of Tobacco Dependence

Awarded Scholars:
James MacKillop, Brown University
Project Date:
Mar 2007
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Behavioral Economics

James MacKillop uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the decision-making of cigarette smokers.


To examine delay discounting of monetary and cigarette rewards in smokers, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the neurobiological basis for the established pattern of impulsive decision-making in smokers.

Past empirical studies have demonstrated significantly greater delay discounting of money in smokers, or greater preference for smaller amounts of money immediately compared to larger delayed amounts of money.


  • Smokers’ preference for smaller immediate rewards, such as smoking, over larger delayed rewards results from differences in brain activation compared to non-smokers.

Key Findings:

  • Impulsive choices were associated with lower activity in certain brain regions, whereas restrained choices were associated with higher activity.
  • Cigarette choices were associated with left hemisphere activation and money choices were associated with right hemisphere activation; the left hemisphere is associated with more hedonic and affectively informed decision making, which may reflect less deliberate consideration of exact numbers of cigarettes and more consideration of the subjective appeal of smoking.

Additional Resources


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