Looming vulnerability and smoking cessation attempts
Introduction: The looming vulnerability model holds that people become anxious when they perceive threats as growing larger and accelerating toward them in space and time. Preliminary research suggested that a guided imagery induction designed to activate a sense that health consequences of smoking are a looming threat led more smokers to attempt to quit. This study tested the effect on quit attempts in a larger sample and examined age, sex, and sensation seeking as moderators. Aims and Methods: Adult smokers (≥10 cigarettes/day) screened for risk of anxiety or mood disorders (N = 278, 52% male; 77% African American) were randomly assigned to receive (1) looming vulnerability or (2) neutral guided imagery exercises. At a 4-week follow-up, they reported quit attempts, smoking rate, self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, and contemplation status. Results: Those in the looming condition (17%) were no more likely than those in the control condition (20%) to make a quit attempt. There were no significant group differences in expectancies, contemplation, or follow-up smoking rate, and no significant moderators. Conclusions: The looming induction was the same one used in earlier work in which it had stronger effects. Those who respond to it with increased urgency about quitting smoking might be offset by others who are more reactant and deny the message. Inconsistencies across studies may reflect differences in inclusion criteria, such that the present sample was on average heavier smokers with longer smoking history and more severe nicotine dependence, yet higher self-efficacy. Implications: An induction designed to activate a sense that the health consequences of smoking constitute a looming vulnerability failed to increase quit attempts or reduce smoking rate among adult daily smokers. Inconsistencies across studies might reflect varying sample characteristics resulting from changes in screening criteria.