Smoking using empirical evidence

A Psychological perspective is a view or an approach to studying human behaviour. Smoking today kills around 4 million people every year; it is the main cause of lung cancer and disease in humans. To understand smoking behaviour we can look at the main psychological perspectives to better understand the reasons behind smoking, and maybe come up with effective solutions to reduce this behaviour and promote healthier lifestyles.

Biological Perspective

Charles Darwin (1859) first demonstrated the idea that genetics and evolution played a major role in affecting human behaviour through natural selection. Biological Psychologists also agree with this theory that all human behaviour has been evolved over millions of years to adapt behaviour to the environment that we live in. Biological Psychologists also believe that because the mind resides in the brain, that factors such as chromosomes and hormones have a significant influence on our behaviour for example, gender personality development.

Using the biological approach there is scientific evidence to say that smoking behaviour is linked to effect that nicotine has on the brain. There are over 300 chemicals in cigarettes but nicotine is the one that is linked with addiction. Nicotine causes a physical addiction and can increase levels of dopamine (the hormone found in the reward part of the brain). For example a study done by (Jain & Mukhergee, 2003 the biological basis of nicotine addiction) says that when a tobacco is smoked nicotine enters the bloodstream through the lungs and reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body through the veins.

This sudden burst of nicotine causes instant high blood pressure which then causes the adrenal glands to be stimulated causing the release of adrenaline within the body, which could explain the reason why nicotine is highly addictive. There is evidence to suggest that there is a genetic link to smoking behaviour. A study done by (Shields. J. Monozygotic Twins Brought up Apart and brought up together. Oxford University press : London) on 42 sets of monozygotic twins (twins of the same genetic makeup) found that if one twin smoked then the other one was more likely to smoke too. Only nine pairs of twins from the 42 tested were found to be disconcordant.

The strength to this approach is that it is very scientific with proven theories. Nicotine causes the a reaction in the brain that causes the smoker to become addicted. This causes a physical need to smoke. The limitation of this theory can be in the fact that Nicotine Replacement Therapy has helped many smokers to quit smoking. So it could be the act of smoking which can be the addictive part and not the nicotine itself.

Most of the research has sampled heavy smokers therefore giving an unrepresentative picture of all addiction types. There is evidence that the chemical change in the brain from NRT does not work for everyone, so this suggests there are other factors involved like social or environmental factors that are factors in smoking addiction. This could be true in the study of twins. Twins reared apart might share some similar environmental factors that could explain smoking, because of these factors it can be seen as too deterministic in its approach.

Behaviourist approach

The learning theory approach or behaviourist approach proposes two main processes whereby people learn from their environment namely by classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning by association and operant conditioning involves learning from the consequence of behaviour. The assumptions of this approach would be that all behaviour is learned from the environment after birth, therefore takes the nurture side of the nature nurture debate. Behaviourism also believes in scientific methodology (e.g. controlled experiments) and that only observable behaviour should be studied because it can be objectively measured.

The behaviourist approach would site social factors as a cause of smoking behaviour, since most smokers take up the habit in their adolescence. Operant conditioning explains that children take up the habit of smoking for peer approval. Peer approval would be the rewarding factor for smoking addiction. Smoking can also been seen as a punishment, in the fact that smoking is disgusting and physically unpleasant. As operant conditioning holds the opinion that behaviour can be reduced by punishment, it doesn’t fully explain why the habit of smoking carries on. Therefore the theory is too reductionist in its approach.

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