Small effects of smoking on visual spatiotemporal processing
Nicotine is an important stimulant that is involved in modulating many neuronal processes, including those related to vision. Nicotine is also thought to play a key role in schizophrenia: A genetic variation of the cholinergic nicotine receptor gene, alpha-7 subunit (CHRNA7) has been shown to be associated with stronger backward masking deficits in schizophrenic patients. In this study, we tested visual backward masking in healthy smokers and non-smokers to further understand the effects of nicotine on spatiotemporal vision. In the first study, we tested 48 participants, a group of non-smokers (n = 12) and three groups of regular smokers that were either nicotine deprived (n = 12), non-deprived (n = 12) or deprived but were allowed to smoke a cigarette directly before the start of the experiment (n = 12). Performance was similar across groups, except for some small negative effects in nicotine-deprived participants. In the second study, we compared backward masking performance between regular smokers and non-smokers for older (n = 37, 13 smokers) and younger (n = 67, 21 smokers) adults. Older adults performed generally worse than younger adults but there were no significant differences in performance between smokers and non-smokers. Taken together, these findings indicate that nicotine has no long-term negative effects on visual spatiotemporal processing as determined by visual backward masking.