Any behavior that we, humans, adopt is coming from the ‘deep down,’ from the parts that express who we are, or what we aspire to become. And it can happen willingly and intentionally, or not. But it happens. And as Kaplan (1980) said: individuals are motivated to perform behaviors that raise self-esteem, which makes us more inclined to adopt behaviors that are associated with our perceived self-image. Furthermore, we are motivated to adopt them if they’re congruent with that image. A study by Comer and Laird (1975) has shown how we take on certain behaviors when we make self-attributions, or perceptions of what we are. Even if those behaviors aren’t in our best self-interest. In this article we’re going to discuss how that works when it comes to the behavior of smoking, how we perceive ourselves before we do, and when watching others do
Smoking and Self-Image *
We all get it. We’re all looking for resemblance, and making sense of what we are, and creating an acceptable bigger image of the small parts of which we’re composed. As humans, we tend to hold on to specific concepts about ourselves, then emphasize and verify them with the behaviors that come with them. That said, let’s take a deeper dive on the implications of the aforementioned.
A study has shown how 11-to-15 year-old nonsmokers perceived smokers of around their same age as “bad, foolish, tough, acting big, better fighters, and more interested in the other sex.” This is to both males and females of smokers. And smoking subjects perceived and held self-concepts that align with those stereotypical of smokers. Ambivalent with both positive and negative traits (keeping in mind that the stereotype of a smoker was investigated by McKennel and Bynner (1969)) which also happens to be the same subjects’ perception of their ideal-self.
But this is where it gets interesting. Nonsmoking subjects that held on to self-concepts matching those of a stereotypical smoker were more likely to plan smoking within a month to a year. And although, as it’s been mentioned, a stereotype of a smoker held both negative and positive attributes; nonsmokers were highly likely to adopt the smoking behavior in order to acquire the positive attributes. This is where the sentence “even if it’s not in their best self-interest” emerges from. Because logical thinking has been partially eliminated when it comes to that matter, and the inner urge to belong has prevailed.
It can be frighteningly simple. “One is tough. Smokers are tough. One should smoke.” Or with the intention of “One wants to be tough. Smokers are tough. One will smoke and become tough.” But that’s not where it stops, brackets can be left open.
The Psychology of It *
Social Psychology would predict something as obvious as “similarity breeds attraction” (Bryne & Griffit 1973). A specific study of social psychology worked on that, where there smoking and nonsmoking subjects were shown materials of 30 seconds slides and photographs of models. Some of the models in those slides and photographs were smokers, others weren’t. And building back on similarity breeding attraction, one would judge a target based on similarity in attitude, emotional state, nonverbal behavior, and perceived desirability.
The 100 subject of this study were asked to rate the targets they observe in materials based on general likableness, and their desirability of them as work partners. As one would expect, smoking subjects are to rate smoking models as more likable, and vice versa. But there’s more to that than meets the eye… Nonsmoker subjects did not only favor nonsmoking models they saw; as healthier and more self-conscious, but also gave lower ratings to models that were shown as smokers.
Which comes from their recalling of past experiences with smokers, and can be the effect of anti-smoking campaigns or school programs, and to the simple memory linkage that our brains tend to build between the observation of something, and recalling the smell that accompanied it. Cigarette smoke in this case. And while smoker subjects were a bit more neutral about nonsmoker models in photographs, there has been the noticeable positive rating for smoker models.
Here’s one more piece to the puzzle. A study by Bender and Hatsorf (1953) says that, whenever possible, people tend to see others as similar to themselves. Meaning: Nonsmokers who’ve been shown models not holding cigarettes simply assumed that they’re not smokers, although they could’ve been but haven’t lit one in the photograph. Smokers obviously rated smoker models high because they held the proof of similarity in their hands. But rated nonsmokers neutrally because of the notion that they could be smokers but just not holding one. So nonsmokers had a simpler measure, while smokers didn’t.
Smoking and Our Image of Others *
Now, for a step back to see the big picture. The aforementioned study says that nonsmokers who’ve described traits of an ideal date, that matched those of stereotypical smokers, were more likely to plan smoking within the next month or year. This is a game changer. Since our rating and liking of people is basically built on our ideal image of either self or date. “We wish to be around people whom are to be this and that” Then we later find out that these traits belong to smokers (and it’s highly likely that they adopted smoking because it goes with the traits).
So the nonsmoker, who likes the traits but not the smoking, is actually pulled into thinking about smoking!
This can be summarized in “One wants to be with someone of specific traits.” Then one moves into finding that they’re smokers, so one adopts it to be found attractive. Or by finding that ‘someone’ with which one shares several common grounds, and is a smoker, so one consequently develops an acceptance of smoking, that later turns into an intention to try.
In conclusion, what usually encourages a person to smoke can be a subtle innate need to belong or to be found desirable. You don’t necessarily know it, and most smokers probably never make the connection. But psychologically, and on a deeper level, we are still social animals: we want to bond, we want be part of the group, we want to match with our loved ones and have no barriers in between. And most importantly, we want to associate with whatever is our understanding of “tough,” because toughness equals survival. And that’s our greatest drive of all. But, of course, and it goes without saying: survival and smoking don’t exactly go hand in hand. So watch out for the tricks your brain might be playing on you!