Search:   This Site   People   Departments   Penn State

College of the Liberal Arts

PSU ShieldPsychology Banner ImageDepartment ofPsychology

Stephen Wilson
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2008


Mailing Address

Department of Psychology
The Pennsylvania State University
311 Moore Bldg.
University Park, PA 16802-3106


814 865-6219


814 863-7002

Research Interests

My primary area of research interest is addictive behavior, with a specific focus on cigarette smoking.  I utilize an interdisciplinary approach that integrates theory and methods from traditional behavioral addiction research with those derived from the affective, cognitive and social neurosciences (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI).  The overarching objective of my research is to shed light on the factors that make it difficult for people to quit using cigarettes and, in turn, to devise ways to use this information to advance the treatment of smoking.  Thematically, my program of research has been organized around three interrelated questions.  First, what are the neurobiological and psychological mechanisms underlying relapse in those trying to quit smoking?  Second, how do certain individual differences (e.g., sex, personality traits) make people more or less successful at quitting smoking?  Third, what are the best strategies to teach people to make them more successful when trying to quit smoking?  Specific topics currently being explored by my laboratory include:

  • Using brain responses to non-drug rewards (e.g., money) to predict relapse-related behavior in smokers
  • Characterizing sex differences in the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to smoking
  • Using real-time fMRI neurofeedback as a tool to facilitate smoking cessation
  • Exploring cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms associated with individual differences in nicotine dependence among light and intermittent smokers
  • Integrating functional brain imaging (i.e., fMRI) and ecological momentary assessment methods to study and treat cigarette addiction
  • Examining subjective, cognitive, and neurobiological effects associated with the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigs”)

Recent Publications

Wilson, S.J., Smyth, J., & MacLean, R.R. (in press). Integrating ecological momentary assessment and brain imaging methods: New avenues for studying and treating tobacco dependence. Nicotine & Tobacco Research

Wilson, S.J., Sayette, M.A., & Fiez, J.A. (in press). Self-control, negative affect, and neural activity during effortful cognition in deprived smokers. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Nichols, T.T, Gates, K.M., Molenaar, P., & Wilson, S.J. (in press). Greater BOLD activity but more efficient connectivity is associated with better cognitive performance within a sample of nicotine-deprived smokers. Addiction Biology.

Beltz, A.M., Gates, K.M., Engels, A.S., Molenaar, P., Pulido, C., Turrisi, R., Berenbaum, S.A., Gilmore, R.O., & Wilson, S.J. (2013). Changes in alcohol-related brain networks across the first year of college: A prospective study using fMRI effective connectivity mapping. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 2052-2059.

Wilson, S.J., Creswell, K.G., Sayette, M.A., & Fiez, J.A. (2013). Ambivalence about smoking and cue-elicited neural activity in quitting-motivated smokers faced with an opportunity to smoke. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 1541-1549.

Wilson, S.J. & MacLean, R.R. (2013). Associations between self-control and dimensions of nicotine dependence: A preliminary report. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 1812-1815.

Wilson, S.J., Sayette, M.A., & Fiez, J.A. (2013). Neural correlates of self-focused and other-focused strategies for coping with cigarette cue exposure. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27, 466-476.

Wilson, S.J., Sayette, M.A., & Fiez, J.A. (2012). Quitting-unmotivated and quitting-motivated cigarette smokers exhibit different patterns of cue-elicited brain activation when anticipating an opportunity to smoke. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121, 198-211.