Efficacy of Imagery and Cognitive Tasks Used to Reduce Craving and Implications for the Elaborated Intrusion Theory of Craving

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Harold Rosenberg


Based on the elaborated intrusion theory of desire (Kavanagh, Andrade, & May, 2005), this study was designed to examine the comparative impact of three types of imagery interventions (visual, olfactory, and a combination of visual and olfactory) versus a distraction intervention on self-reported craving for cigarettes by regular smokers. Participants included university students (N=54) who had been smoking at least a pack of cigarettes per day for the past 3 to 6 months and had been deprived of nicotine for at least 6 hours prior to their participation. Recruitment was performed via email announcements, classroom announcements, and web postings. Using the 10-item, self-report Questionnaire of Smoking Urges, Brief Version (Cox, Tiffany, & Christen, 2001), participants’ craving levels were assessed at baseline, following 2 minutes of in vivo cue-exposure, during a 2-minute imagery or distraction control intervention, and following the imagery or distraction control intervention. Participants showed significantly lower self-reported craving during the imagery conditions than during the distraction control condition. There was not a significant difference in the level of craving among the imagery conditions. Despite explicit instructions to focus on the designated form(s) of sensory imagery, a majority of participants in each of the imagery conditions reported experiencing additional forms of sensory imagery (e.g., auditory imagery). This finding suggests that it might be difficult for people to sustain uni-sensory images even over short periods of time. In general, participants’ vividness of imagery was not correlated with lower craving scores during the intervention. There was one exception; in the combined imagery condition, vividness of olfactory imagery was positively correlated with a decrease in self-reported craving. Notably, in all conditions a “rebound effect” was observed in that craving increased shortly after the imagery or distraction intervention had ended. Clinical implications for the elaborated intrusion theory are discussed.