LOS ANGELES (CBS) — According to a new UCLA study, teens who smoke have less activity in the part of their brains that control decision-making.
In the study, which appears in the current online edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, scientists asked 25 smokers and 25 non-smokers, ages 15 to 21, to perform a cognitive test called the stop-signal task.
While the study showed less brain activity in teens who smoke, the study also said smokers performed just as well as nonsmokers on a test to measure their ability to control their impulses
To gauge the ability to control or inhibit actions, the participants were asked to press a button as fast as they could every time a lighted arrow appeared, but not to press the button if an alarm sounded.
Although brain scans of smokers have found less activity in the prefrontal cortex, which has been blamed for poor decision-making abilities and weak cognitive control in teens, smokers and nonsmokers performed about the same on the stop-signal task, said the study’s senior author, Edythe London, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
She said that surprised the researchers, and “suggested to us that the motor response of smokers may be maintained through some kind of compensation from other brain areas.”
“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,” London said.
Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., with more than 400,000 deaths each year attributable to smoking or its consequences. Smoking usually begins in the teen years, and about 80 percent of adult smokers became hooked by the time they were 18, according to the study.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)