Effect of Smoking on Division of Attention


The basic objective of this study is to see whether smoking significantly affects the division of attention of an individual. Smoking can be defined as the process in which any substance, usually tobacco is rolled and burnt and the smoke that is released is inhaled. There is evidence that smoking is harmful to the brain at the functional and morphological level (Swan & Lessov-Schlaggar, 2007). Division of attention can be defined as the person’s ability to attend to two or more tasks at a single time. Snowball Sampling was used to select 60 participants, 30 Smokers (N=30) and 30 Non-Smokers (N=30). A screener developed by Fagerstrom called the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence (1978) was used to screen the participants after which the Division of Attention Experiment by Shailaja Bhagwat was administered. Results indicated that there was no significant difference in the division of attention between smokers and non-smokers (t=0.27, t=0.38, t=0.009, t=0.22). They both had nearly the same divisions of attention between physical and mental tasks.

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There are approximately about 2 billion smokers all over the world. (WHO, 2013)

Smoking can be defined as the process in which any substance, usually tobacco is rolled and burnt, and the smoke that is released is inhaled. This practice was started as a recreational one in which an active substance like for example nicotine is made available to the blood stream through the lungs (Gatley & Wilbert). The most common method of this practice of smoking is through cigarettes. There are other methods of this practice too like the use of bidis, bongs, cigars, hookah, pipes and vaporizers to name a few. A 2007 report states that, each year, about 4.9 million people worldwide die as a result of smoking. (West, Robert & Shiffman, 2007.)

Among the many substances used for smoking, tobacco is by far the most widely used substance which is addictive because of the nicotine content. The history of smoking can date back to as early as 5000 BC when it was used for religious ceremonies. The use of tobacco products is increasing globally, though in some higher and middle income countries its use is decreasing. The global prevalence is 48% for adult males and 12% for adult females. There are about 1/3 of the adults worldwide, who smoke, that is an approximate of about 2.0 billion smokers around the world including child smokers. (WHO 2013)

A few reasons as to why people start smoking can be: having parents who smoke, siblings who smoke, friends who smoke, the freedom that they have to do what they want, peer pressure, low academic achievements, their daily surrounding, that is, having co-workers or people they are usually surrounded with being chain smokers, economic background or even life in the urban environment to an extent. An individual might just start smoking as a result of a social gathering or a party which becomes an addiction later on.

Smoking is most prevalent in the age group of 18-25. It is stated that there are about 1000 smokers at the age of 18 and below who start smoking (WHO 2013). There are various reasons and causes for such a trend. This age group is the most prone to getting addicted to smoking as individuals in this age bracket are most easily swayed in their decisions and get addicted most easily. Once addicted to the use of any substance, tobacco generally, it gets very difficult for individuals to leave this habit. According to statistics by the World Health Organization we have more male smokers (35% developed 50% developing) than female smokers (22% developed 9% developing). These statistics show a rather large number of women smoking, especially in the developed countries we see that a lot of women smoking.

Division of Attention:

Division of attention (Multi-Tasking) is the process in which an individual’s attention is divided between two tasks. The talent of multitasking is when an individual knows how to juggle the time and attention spent between the two tasks well so as to give equal amount of attention to both so that it doesn’t look like there is any amount of partiality or preference given to a specific task on hand. One is said to be good at multi-tasking when one is able to perform both the tasks at the best of their abilities without being overworked or stressed. Since the 1990s experimental psychologists have tried to understand the nature and limits of human multitasking.

In dichotic listening, subjects are apparently unable to attend simultaneously to two concurrent, auditory speech messages. However, in two experiments reported here, it is shown that people can attend to and repeat back continuous speech at the same time as taking in complex, unrelated visual scenes, or even while sight-readingpiano music. In both cases performance with dividedattentionwas very good, and in the case of sight-reading was as good as with undivided attention. There was little or no effect of the dual task on the accuracy of speech shadowing. (Allport, Antonis & Reynold, 1971)

Attention, it can be described as the process of focusing in ones field of awareness. Our attention can be commanded by a number of factors.

Two of the main factors that can do so are:

Objective factors such as intensity, size, movement, distinctiveness etc.
Subjective factors such as, an individual’s needs, motives, interests, past experiences etc.

The intensity of attention given to a specific stimulus is affected by the presence of another stimulus that is competing for one’s attention. This is known as shifting of attention. Shifting of attention is necessary for perception as it prevents negative adaptation.

Another phenomenon which is related to attention is known as the distraction of attention. As we already know what is shifting of attention, distraction of attention is when the attention wavers and gets back to the previous stimuli. There are maximum numbers of stimuli that can be responded to in a particular period of attention. This maximum amount of attention that can be referred to in this particular period is called the span of attention.

How a person can divide their attention has to do with that person’s intelligence (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012). Researchers Navon and Gopher (1979) theorized a modality model which explains the basics of attention mainly divided between various simple tasks and not between various complex tasks. There are various variables that play a role in our ability to pay attention or to concentrate on the many tasks that are to be performed at once. A few of those variables are anxiety, arousal, the difficulty of the tasks to be performed and the skills that an individual possesses.

Relation between Smoking and Division of Attention:

When we look back to studies done in the past on these two topics, we have many, but when it comes to a study involving both these topics we have hardly any studies. We have many researches on smoking and its effect on health, cognition, effect of nicotine on the brain activity during the performance of a task, impact of smoking on the performance of an individual, as well as studies on the effect of smoking during pregnancy on the performance of a child after its birth.

An accumulation of evidence suggests that smoking may be reinforcing, in part, due to nicotine’s capacity to enhance the process of attention, but correspondingly, the stimulus-filter model of nicotine reinforcement asserts that nicotine increases cognitive performance by acting as a stimulus-barrier, thereby screening and preventing the irrelevant and annoying stimuli from the smoker’s awareness. (Kassel, 1997)

Some studies that have been performed on smoking and the performance of an individual, either cognitive or social both say that smoking usually has a negative impact or rather they say that smoking reduces the cognitive and physical performance of an individual.It was found that while cigarette smoking had no negative effect upon performance for simple perceptual tasks, smoking was found to exert measurable negative effects upon performance for more complex information processing tasks (Spilich, June & Renner, 1992).

There is a scientific background for the decrease in the physical performance of an individual who smokes. Smoking reduces the capacity of an individual to do work as the oxygen available to the body is reduced. When we inhale smoke from a cigarette, we introduce the carbon monoxide into the blood. The carbon monoxide combines with the hemoglobin in the blood to form carboxy-hemoglobin which reduces the amount of oxygen that is carried in the blood. The lesser the available oxygen, the lesser the physical endurance, the lesser the endurance, the weaker the individual. Prolonged smoking causes irreversible lung damage. A study recently done in Kings College London tells us that smoking spoils the brain by damaging memory, learning and reasoning as well (Smoking Rots the Brain & Lowers Cognitive Performance, November 2012).

Smoking just a single cigarette can immediately affect physical capability in exercise when the inhaled carbon monoxide binds to red blood cells, displacing oxygen and preventing its delivery to muscle cells. In fact, a study at UCLA found that young adults experience a four percent decrease in oxygen uptake right after smoking.

It has long been known that smokers tend to be less physically active than nonsmokers, and vice versa. For instance, a study in Public Health Reports found smokers are more likely to quit supervised exercise programs.

Another study found that male high school students who were less physically active than their peers were twice as likely to smoke.

There hasn’t been a specific study on the effect that smoking has on the division of attention. Generally the division of attention is usually different for different individuals. Smokers perform one physical and one mental task at a time. They are hence “multitasking” or rather dividing their attention in such a way that they are spending enough time performing both the tasks but to what level of their ability?

Smokers are better at Division of Attention.

The above mentioned hypothesis is one study or rather one topic that has not been widely studied under the vast topic of smoking especially in the Indian contest. There have been various studies on the effect of smoking on performance as well as the capacity of an individual to divide their attention between two tasks.

Will the division of attention among non-smokers be greater than the division of attention among smokers?


To determine whether there is a significant difference in the division of attention between smokers and non-smokers while performing two tasks simultaneously.


There is a significant difference between the division of attention of smokers and non-smokers while performing two tasks simultaneously.



A sample size of 60 students (n=60) within the age group of 18-22 with all of them from a middle class background, studying in college and from the city of Hyderabad were selected on the basis of Random Sampling. They were divided into two groups of 30 each i.e. smoker and non-smokers. These two groups were further divided into 15 girls and 15 boys each. Before giving them the screener itself, the purpose of the study was explained and a signed informed consent was taken from the students.

Participation inclusion criteria:

Students between the ages of 18-22
Pursuing bachelor’s degree from any college
Students who were smokers

Participation exclusion criteria:

Students above the age of 22 or below 18
Students working part time or full time


The Fagerstrom Nicotine Dependence Scale (FTND) was used as a screener for the smokers. It is a 6 question scale which shows the levels of dependence on nicotine. Anybody who has moderate to high dependency (score of 5 or above) on this scale is considered a smoker. This scale was developed by Fagerstrom in 1978 titled Fagerstrom Tolerance Questionnaire which was later called the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence (FTND: Heatherton et al., 1991).

After this the Division of Attention (different variables) by Dr. (Smt.) Shailaja Bhagwat was given to the participants, which involved the performance of 4 tasks. Each task was to be performed only for two minutes, that too each task had 3 sub tasks. The students were explained what each and every task was very carefully and if they had any doubts, those doubts were cleared too.

The 4 tasks in brief were:

one Physical and one Mental Simple Tasks (separately as well as simultaneously)
one Physical Simple Task and one Mental Complex Task (separately as well as simultaneously)
one Physical Complex and one Mental Complex Task (separately as well as simultaneously)
one Physical and Mental Complex Task (separately as well as simultaneously)


The statistics that were used on the raw data were:


Standard Deviation



The hypothesis states that there is a significant difference between the division of attention between smokers and non-smokers. The Statistics used were:

Mean: The Mathematical Average of a set of numbers.

Standard Deviation: Measures how spread out the data is.

T-Test: Measures if there is a significant difference between two variables.

The results got do not support the hypothesis which states that there is a significant difference in the division of attention between smokers and non-smokers.

Table 1 shows the Mean (M) Standard Deviation (SD) and T-Value (t) between smokers and non-smokers.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Mean (Smoker)





Mean Non-(Smoker)





S.D (Smoker)





S.D (Non-Smoker)










*N.S = Not Significant

Table 1 shows that the t-values were not found to be significant.


When we attend two or more tasks at one time, it is mainly because of the division of attention of that person. The first scientist to study in the field of division of attention was Paulhan (1887) who found out that if the nature of both the jobs is simple, the outcome would be the least affected. A few other scientists who got the same results were Binet (1890), Jastraw and Cairnes (1892) and Fitts and Simon (1949). According to the table shown above, the hypothesis mentioned above has been proved right. There is no significant difference between the:

Division of attention between smokers and non-smokers in performing two tasks simultaneously.

These results could be due to various reasons. The lifestyle of both smokers and non-smokers is the same. Their surroundings, their routines everything is very similar. Although minor differences will be present in the results due to differing mental abilities, everything else is the same. Hence their results or rather the levels of division of attention between ideally should not differ to a great extent.

When we look at the tables closely we observe that the performance of two simple tasks (one physical and one mental) the loss of efficiency in the performance of tasks in non-smokers is lesser than that of smokers, whereas in the performance of two difficult tasks (one mental and one physical) the opposite case happens. The loss of efficiency is lesser for smokers when compared to non-smokers.

When we look at the results of the tasks of difficult physical- easy mental or difficult mental and easy physical, they depended completely on the mental abilities of that person. There was no pattern that was followed.

The hypothesis may not have been proved right as the all the students have not been smoking regularly for long. The effects might be seen more clearly if they had been smoking for longer. The brain functioning might be something that would be impaired only after a while. The impairment is not going to be sudden.

There could have also been many intervening variables such as the weather, the students mood the surroundings, the situations and even the noise levels. All these affect the performance of the subject while performing a task.

This particular research in this field gives the psychologists a base to build up future researches and ones which can be conducted in more depth. The same study can be conducted on an older population and the results can be matched and seen. Then it can be proven if age plays a major role in this research. As the subjects are older it is but natural that they have smoked for longer in their life which has been proved to reduce brain functioning.

This study shows that there is no significant difference between smokers and non-smokers as well as girls and boys when it comes to the division of attention.


Anstyl, O’Kearney, Salim, Sanden. – Smoking as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Cognitive Decline: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies (2007)

West, Robert and Shiffman, Saul (2007).Fast Facts: Smoking Cessation. Health Press Ltd. p.28

Hirsch, GL, et al., “Immediate effects of smoking on cardiorespiratory response to exercise,” Journal of Applied Physiology 58:1975-81, June 1985

Blair, SN, et al., “Relationship Between Exercise or Physical Activity and Other Health Behaviors,” Public Health Reports 100(2):172-180, March-April 1985; Faulkner, RA, et al., “The Relationship of Physical Activity to Smoking Characteristics in Canadian Men and Women,” Canadian Journal of Public Health 78(3):155-60, May-June 1987; Lazarus, NB, et al., “Smoking and Body Mass in the Natural History of Physical Activity: Prospective Evidence from the Alameda County Study, 1965-1974,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 5(3):127-35, May-June 1989

Dishman, RK, et al., “The Determinants of Physical Activity and Exercise,” Public Health Reports 100(2):158-71, March-April 1985

Winnail, SD, et al., “Relationship Between Physical Activity Level and Cigarette, Smokeless Tobacco, and Marijuana Use Among Public High School Adolescents,” Journal of School Health 65(10):438-442, December 1995


The Effects of Tobacco Smoke and Nicotine on Cognition and the Brain, Gary E. Swan,

Christina N. Lessov-Schlaggar

On thedivisionofattention: A disproof of the single channel hypothesis,
D. Alan Allporta,Barbara Antonisa&Patricia Reynolds

Smoking and attention: A review and reformulation of the stimulus-filter hypothesis, Jon D. Kassel

Cigarette smoking and cognitive performance, George J. Spilich, Lorraine June, & Judith Renner.

Smoking Rots the Brain & Lowers Cognitive Performance

November 29, 2012


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