Time perception, one of the simplest indicators of a person's ability to concentrate, is severely impaired after just one day without cigarettes, according to a study in the current quarterly issue of the Psychopharmacology Bulletin.
In the study, 22 nonsmokers and 20 smokers were asked — after 45 seconds — how much time they thought had passed. Nonsmokers and active smokers were generally within five seconds of being right.
But smokers tested the morning after a day without cigarettes overestimated the time by an average of 50 percent.
"We had some people (who) thought it was three minutes," said Laura Cousino Klein, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health who conducted the study with two Penn State University colleagues.
The results came as no surprise to Lynne Funk, a Penn State student who tried to quit smoking in January.
"When I'm sitting, when I'm bored ... one minute passes and it seems like five," Funk said. "That's when it would feel like time was standing still. I wanted a cigarette just to kill time, to de-stress."
Timothy B. Baker, associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, said the study might help smokers better cope with withdrawal.
If smokers mistakenly estimate how long they're experiencing urges, "they may be mis-estimating all sorts of things that may be making quitting seem more burdensome," he said.