Smoking behavior is linked to personality traits

July 7, 2024

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Smoking behavior is linked to personality traits

Cigarette smokers, cigar smokers, and non-smokers each have distinct personality profiles, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE  by US and Portuguese researchers.

Tobacco use remains a formidable global public health challenge, responsible for more than 8 million deaths annually, including those attributed to second-hand smoke exposure. Emerging research underscores the critical role of psychological factors, including personality traits, in shaping tobacco consumption patterns.

To further explore this issue, the researchers examined the association between Big Five personality traits - openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism - and cigar or cigarette smoking in a sample of 9,918 older adults across 11 European countries.

The results showed that smoking is associated with lower scores in conscientiousness and agreeableness and higher extraversion scores than not smoking. The authors speculate that relatively low conscientiousness among smokers may reflect a lack of self-discipline and disregard for long-term health risks, characteristic of more impulsive behaviors, while reduced agreeableness could help explain why smokers often persist despite societal disapproval. They also suggest that the higher extraversion observed may suggest that these individuals enjoy the social nature of smoking.

The analysis also determined personality differences between types of smokers, finding that cigar smokers tend to exhibit lower neuroticism and higher openness compared to both cigarette smokers and non-smokers, underlining that the motivations and contexts of tobacco use are varied.

What the researchers say: “Basically what we found is: 'tell me what, and if, you smoke, and I'll tell you who you are,’” the authors concluded.

So, what? The study’s findings suggest that personality traits are antecedents of smoking behavior, with implications for targeted public health interventions and social policies aimed at combating the global tobacco epidemic.

The findings also explain why so many people fail to successfully give up smoking. Since it’s linked to personality traits smoking becomes part of the smoker’s concept of who they are, an adjunct to their personality, and thus very difficult to let go of.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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