Adonis Diaries

Smoking is not cool; smokers are! What is Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE)?

Posted on: October 9, 2008

Smoking is not cool; smokers are! (Written on December 4, 2007)

In the post “The Broken Window theory of crime epidemic” I developed on the large chasm separating a state of having a predisposition to criminal behavior and actually committing a crime.

For example, if you are to predict which groups of adolescents will eventually commit a higher rate of criminal activities:

1. the group living in a clean and stable neighborhood, with an active and sensible community but whose family environment is violent and crude, and

2. the group of adolescents living in a violent neighborhood but whose family have strong moral support,

then which group would actually exhibit a higher rate of criminal acts? 

It is of no use following the conventional argument that family is the cornerstone of real behavioral actions: A family provides a strong defensive nature against criminal behavior in the first few years of upbringing, but it is the daily environment and peer pressures that offer the catalytic situations for committing an actual criminal act.

Countless experiments with adoptive children versus regular families have shown that, besides genetic inheritance, it is the peer influence in the immediate surroundings that form the adolescent characters for actions, as is the case for smoking behavior.

We process information in a global manner by reaching for a “dispositional” explanation for event (which means interpreting other people’s behavior by overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits) as opposed to a contextual explanation.

If we are told that the gym is dimly lighted and the basketball player is not expected to shoot well, we still favor the player in the well lighted gym who did slightly better, even if he is actually far less talented than the other player.  This general tendency is called the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).

The human brain has to rely on a “reducing valve” to create and maintain the perception of continuity, because if we have to evaluate every event according to its specific situation, we are overwhelmed and become too confused to attend to our myriad of activities and train of thoughts.

For example, a person is in many instances hostile, fiercely independent, passive, dependent, aggressive, warm or gentle depending on who he is with, when, and how, but we tend to reduce his character by stating that the person is either hostile with a façade of passivity or he is warm and passive with a surface defense of aggressiveness.

Thus, we tend to underestimate the minor criminal acts in the specific situations within the environment we are surrounded with, such as overcrowding graffiti views, fare-breaking, window cleaning harassment on intersections or panhandling in our tendency to believing that lawlessness is the rule.

In the cases of smoking and suicide, it is the specific context that turns to be the dominant factor.

Almost always, smokers had a role model who was really cool, who didn’t care about people’s opinions of his behavior, a risk taker, sexual precocity, a trend setter and generally categorized as extrovert.

Smoking is not cool, but it is the cool people who smoked; the general smokers somehow emulate sophistication, they imitate their role models.

Cigarette companies were actually characterizing the cool individuals in their advertisements who were performing cool dangerous activities, which added more exposure to non-smokers and who were not directly exposed to cool people in their daily life.

Thus, the first stage is the contagion of general smokers from the few cool smokers and next the stickiness of nicotine to perpetuating the habit.  Some smokers have tolerance for the poisonous nicotine and can handle up to 3 times the amount that average people could tolerate, very mush like alcohol tolerant drinkers, and it is these addicts that becomes regular or heavy smokers.

The “Chippers” or occasional smokers do not feel any withdrawal when they quit for a while because they cannot tolerate nicotine in the first place.

Research has demonstrated that a third of the smoking adolescents quit right away, a third becomes chippers and just a third has the potential to ending up heavy smokers.

Additionally, nicotine does not have a linear addiction trends because it takes at least 3 years for the occasional smokers to tip to the heavy status.  The amount of daily intake of nicotine that tips a tolerant adolescent nicotine smoker from occasional to heavy smoker is about 6 milligrams of nicotine or the content in 5 cigarettes.

Consequently, if the nicotine amount in a pack of cigarette is reduced to less than 6 milligrams then, many adolescents would not end up heavy smokers.

This is so far the best strategy for conquering the stickiness factor in addiction to cigarettes.  The other alternative is the use of drugs that combat depression: There is a strong correlation between heavy smokers and depressive nature.

For example, the drugs Zyban and Bupropion that are used for depressive individuals to increase the dopamine inhibit the desire for nicotine and they also replace some of the norepinephrine, so that smokers don’t have the agitation of the withdrawal symptoms.

The dopamine and norepinephrine and serotonin are chemicals produced by the brain to enhance neurotransmission.

Personally, I don’t vividly recall that I emulated a cool individual smoking, at least not consciously, but I started imitating smokers in a nude club that exhibited totally naked cool girls!

No, I cannot recall that I felt a buzz when I inhaled my first cigarette; what I felt was utter disgust, aversion and dislike.

There are rare occasions when I feel dizzy after the first few puffs in the morning; I don’t think feeling dizzy can be considered a pleasurable sensation. However I felt addicted to watching the cool naked girls.

Since I am not a cool guy with precocious sexual activities or an extrovert by any measure then, I may safely consider that my addiction was genetically preponderant for nicotine tolerance. Instead of chipping cigarettes, I bought boxes and would not throw away the box as long as Walter Mitty’s nude bar remained around the corner from my dormitory.

I tried nicotine patches but insisted on smoking the same number of cigarettes.  I guess my tolerance for nicotine was pretty high and my brain was obviously dysfunctional in secreting the appropriate chemicals for depressive individuals.

Somehow, I have the feeling that the more I smoke the more I revert to adolescence; I may not be much of an extrovert and a defiant person most of the times, but my diary is turning very daring!

The other case is on suicide trends and sometimes verging on epidemic in specific locations, like in Micronesia Islands in the Pacific where suicide was never committed.

For two decades in the 70’s and 80’s, male adolescents hanged themselves by leaning forward and letting the noose strangulate the blood from reaching the brain; male adolescents committed hanging for lame excuses because it became a fashion to experiment with how it feels:  Suicide became a popular theme in songs and graffiti.

Suicide by hanging was becoming a message to emulate the “permission” given by a role model and charismatic adolescent who took his life because he was in love with two girls and could not choose between one of the two who both gave birth simultaneously.

Researchers have demonstrated that whenever a front page account of a suicide by a renowned person is shown then, the rate of suicide increases for ten days before the rate returning to normal.  Furthermore, the kind of suicides is very similar to the detailed account of the suicide in the dailies, as if people are imitating the clear message of their role models.

In general, the few kinds of communicators described as connectors, mavens and salesmen are the messengers who re-package a message to communicate it appropriately and who can tip the point toward an epidemic.

In addition to locating the few individuals who are fundamental in spreading the epidemic it would be good to remember that human communication has a set of counter-intuitive rules and your intuitions need to be tested and validated.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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