Both the effects and aftermath of stress remain acute research topics, which may be primarily due to the subject’s prominence among various population strata. Older adults who experience stress have a lower quality of life, as their physical and mental health deteriorates under psychological duress (de Frias & Whyne, 2015). This effect may be due to the prominence of various inherently harmful coping mechanisms that people replicate to mitigate their agitation, such as smoking. Thus, investigating the relationship between psychological stress and nicotine intake in middle-aged adults may allow expanding the available psychological breadth of knowledge.
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This research aims to find a correlation between experienced stress and nicotine intake among adults within the 45 to 65 age demographic, regardless of their gender. As such, its chief objectives are:
- Surveying a broad population of middle-aged smokers and non-smokers using Qualtrics;
- Establishing their self-apperceived levels of stress;
- Noting their self-reported nicotine-related behaviors;
- Examining a quantifiable correlation between increased levels of stress and increased nicotine intake.
Visually, the smoking person has become a depiction of an attempt to seem calm and collected. As such, the proved and existing contextual dependency of smoking on various other factors makes questioning the validity of its connection with stress levels acute (Pina, Namba, Leyrer-Jackson, Cabrera-Brown, & Gipson, 2018). Furthermore, doing so may provide an insight into the existing and widespread mechanisms of coping with mental tension.
Rectifying the idiosyncrasy of compromising physical health for mental, as well as vice versa, may become possible through the provision of methods to recognize harmful behaviors. The existing breadth of literature regarding nicotine and mental health focuses primarily on mental illness rather than overall stress levels (Fluharty, Taylor, Grabski, & Munafo, 2016). Therefore, proving the existence of a link between stress levels and nicotine consumption may allow treating the root of an every-day problem (Kwako & Koob, 2017). Thus, by addressing the core issue, rather than its manifestation, a higher quality of life may become available to broad population segments.
As the research bases itself on the results of a self-reflective questionnaire, there is little researcher-participants contact. Nonetheless, privacy-related ethical concerns must be addressed by providing contributors with a guarantee of confidentiality (Nestor & Schutt, 2018). Thus, per nicotine’s status as a legal drug and the promise of results’ safeguarding and anonymity, those wishing to participate in the survey may receive far more potential benefits than risks.
Critical Literature Review
Existing research and articles on the topic highlight the current trends in the apperception of the correlation between nicotine addiction and stress. As an example, psychological distress manifests itself in different addiction symptoms among smokers, implying the existence of a link between the two circumstances (Hwang & Yun, 2015). The systematic review by Fluharty et al. (2016) calls upon a wide berth of research that effectively connects depression and anxiety to cigarette consumption.
However, this paper relates primarily to mental illness and may not help shed light on day-to-day stressors that are unrelated to mental health. Pina et al. (2018) explain the different external social factors that can affect smoking habits on a daily basis, effectively outlining the act of smoking as a coping behavior. Furthermore, Kwako and Koob (2017) highlight an existing link between stress and addiction, while Robles (2019) demonstrates their combined effect on health. These research papers create the basis for understanding stress, addiction, and mental health as independent factors that remain inherently interconnected.
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Finding a correlation between the two acts of experiencing stress and nicotine intake may become possible when considering experimental research. The study by Wiggert, Wilhelm, Nakajima, and Al’Absi (2016) declares outright that their investigation found anxiety to be “associated with increased stress-related urges to smoke for relief” (p. 8). However, the study deals primarily with cardiovascular stress, urging a query regarding the interconnection of nicotine intake to mental health (Wiggert et al., 2016). While the physical effects of smoking may be extensively established, the psychological prerequisites, which make a person resort to smoking as a coping mechanism, largely remain to be explored.
The topic of interconnectivity between psychological stress and nicotine intake is an inherently vast one, necessitating narrowing down the research question to a single population segment. One study by Mauro, Canham, Martins, and Spira (2015) allows reviewing the high nicotine addiction tendencies among middle-aged adults, indicating the existence of a potential behavioral pattern among people of a similar age. Furthermore, specific findings support these inferences, stating that there exists an inverse correlation between a person’s age and their mental health (de Frias & Whyne, 2015).
Thus, if “frequent prescription/other drug use coping is associated with poor self-rated health two years later,” then this could mean a continuous deterioration of health for population groups nearing a certain age (Mauro et al., 2015, p. 6). Therefore, this circumstance necessitates a research aim that focuses on middle-aged adults, as they may be outlined as a potentially susceptible group that harbors the potential for both health betterment and deterioration.
Furthering middle-aged individuals’ quality of life requires assessing for a proposed relation between stress and nicotine consumption, which could permit addressing the root of the stress-nicotine interrelated issue if such a connection exists. As such, quantitative surveying could help recognize the existing, self-aware trends among different population strata (Edmonds & Kennedy, 2016; Nardi, 2018). The necessity of such an investigation is rooted in searching for links that can potentially exist between different variables, outlining the progression of nicotine addiction as a reaction to stress-inducing life experiences (Rooney & Evans, 2018).
Under the existing breadth of knowledge, a quantitative research process may be best suited to investigation through population surveying (Percy, Kostere, & Kostere, 2015). This type of theoretical framework retains its current actuality due to statistic results’ “reliability, validity, replicability, and generalizability,” while a different approach may be more beneficial at later stages (Brown, 2015, p. 26; McBride, 2020). As such, it may be an indispensable methodology for an initial investigation into a topic, setting the groundwork for future research.
Calling upon both middle-aged men and women as a surveyed population could allow finding disparities in their self-reported behavior, indicating different patterns of conduct. As an example, the paper by Kotlyar, Thuras, Hatsukami, and Al’Absi (2017) sheds light on the gender-adherent reactions to “the combination of stress and smoking,” with men registering higher blood pressure after exposure to stressors (p. 6).
Conversely, Lawless, Harrison, Grandits, Eberly, and Allen (2015) further accentuate this male-female dichotomy of stress-related responses, claiming that women self-report higher stress-levels with more intense withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, women’s nicotine consumption experiences vary from the ones reported by men, with the former identifying as a more vulnerable population group (Torres & O’Dell, 2016). Thus, while not a primary goal, furthering the breadth of knowledge regarding the experiences of stressed men and women with nicotine could help outline the truly susceptible and at-risk population group among middle-aged adults.
The ethics of nicotine-related scientific investigations remain an acute consideration, especially since this type of research is an addiction-related inquiry. As such, the primary outlined concern when investigating a cigarette-stress dependency lies with the possibility of a de-anonymization of the procured results (Nestor & Schutt, 2018). Data security and safeguarding the research from breaching participants’ privacy should become a primary concern for the majority of such research topics (Rudolph, Bazzi, & Fish, 2016).
Any improperly disclosed personal information puts participants at risk of social shaming per their addiction; even though nicotine remains one of the least stigmatized drugs available, on par only with alcohol (Mauro et al., 2015; Nestor & Schutt, 2018; Pina et al., 2018). Thus, the well-being of the research’s target group, its stakeholders, and participants should drive addiction-centered research, regardless of the perceived normalcy of the drug in question.
The existing knowledge gap regarding addiction and stress investigations, which center on adults aged below 65 years old, contextualizes the proposed research. Middle-aged adults constitute an at-risk group due to the prevalence of drug-related coping mechanisms among them, as well as the serious implications of their mid-life health-related trends on their future quality of life (Mauro et al., 2015). Per the results of the proposed research, an inference may be drafted regarding the exhibition of stress symptoms among adults aged 45 to 65 years old. Furthermore, confirming or refuting the existence of a connection between frequent smoking and heightened stress levels among this population strata could provide an insight into providing them with alternate stress-management techniques.
Proposed Methodology and Methods
The proposed research aims to appraise the existence of a link between smoking and stress in middle-aged adults. Its conclusions will be based on the results of an online-based questionnaire that relies on an existing “Smoking behavior” (n.d.) survey, which may be found linked on the reference page under the appropriate citation.
The research process will focus on three quantifiable variables, such as participants’ self-reported time between smoke-breaks, self-reported stress levels, and estimated number of cigarettes smoked per day, with the information being reported anonymously. Participants’ gender will be considered an extraneous variable, as something that may affect the end-result, but is not necessarily relevant to the current study (Nardi, 2018). The necessary control variable will be participants’ every-day smoking habit. As such, the proposed research is a cross-sectional quantitative investigation with a within-groups design.
Participants have to be 45 to 65 years old to be included in the study and must partake in acts of smoking on a habitual basis, additionally indicating their gender upon survey initiation. Participants will be randomly selected online, with respondents accessing the “Smoking behavior” (n.d.) survey on the Qualtrics database. The participants will be limited by a sample size of 200, thus, helping secure a relatively low margin of error (Nardi, 2018). Additionally, those participating do not need to have knowledge of research processes or Qualtrics software, which prevents the exclusion of a specific sub-set of the designated population and further reduces the range of potential error (Nestor & Schutt, 2018). Thus, all participants, who belong to a particular age group and partake in acts of smoking, constitute a single study group.
Overall, the materials used can be divided into two types, the primary being those that will facilitate the process of receiving, structuring, and analyzing self-reported data and the secondary being represented by supporting literature. The “Smoking behavior” (n.d.) survey, hosted on the Qualtrics database, will provide the brunt of the required data. No external stimuli will be used in the survey process, and non-specialized computers will be used to structure the received information within the Stata 13SE program that will conduct “data clustering and stratification” (Mauro et al., 2015, p. 4).
The visual elements utilized by Fluharty et al. (2016), such as Figure 2, may be re-worked to suit the surveyed information and integrated into the research report to help picture data for readers’ benefit (p. 6). Inferences will be compared against those of previous, similar research papers, for example, written by Fluharty et al. (2016) and Wiggert et al. (2016). Doing so will help assess the results in context with previous analyses.
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The control group will be provided with a link to the questionnaire hosted on the Qualtrics website, with the number of responses capping at 200 and forbidding any more submissions. Participants will be notified of the research’s purpose and conditions before beginning the “Smoking behavior” (n.d.) survey, as well as its anonymity to ensure truthful self-analysis. Researchers will then receive the data and cluster it within the Stata 13SE program for facilitated analysis (Mauro et al., 2015). The planned multivariate analysis will be carried out based on the structured data. Finally, the research results will be documented and prepared for presentation with supporting quantified statistical information and data-driven conclusions.
Proposed Approach to Analysis of Data
A quantitative research design requires the utilization of appropriate deductive analysis tools. While publishing raw data is a viable research result, doing so could quickly become an ethical faux pas, breaking the promise made to the participants, who provided their information for academic purposes (Nestor & Schutt, 2018). The information received from the “Smoking behavior” (n.d.) survey will be summarized in Stata 13SE preceding this analysis, and a data-driven central tendency will be outlined (Rooney & Evans, 2018). Thus, using a multivariate statistical analysis per the three proposed variables may be the best course of action for the study of aggregated data (Nardi, 2018). The research question will act as the central element of the data analysis process, with the outlined supplementary problems approached after the initial investigation.
Steps to Ensure Validity and Credibility
In conclusion, a variety of support structures will ensure the credibility of the conducted research. Data dependability will be secured by its strict documentation and analysts’ adherence to a fixed research structure, per the proposed quantitative framework (Nardi, 2018). The raw, anonymized data will be made available in a research report, allowing for a further confirmability of the conclusions made with supporting evidence. Furthermore, generalizability will be upheld by the utilization of proper data analysis tools to calculate mean results while considering the potential margin of error (Nardi, 2018).
Finally, investigator triangulation will address the issue of credibility, demonstrating the soundness of conclusions by including more than one researcher within the investigation. Thus, the research’s integrity should be upheld by a system of checks and balances within and without the analysis process.
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