Kicking the butt might benefit young adults' mental as well as physical health, according to a recent study released by the University of Missouri.  

Young adults who quit smoking demonstrate improvement in their overall personality, researchers said. The study data indicate that for some young adults smoking is impulsive and that curbing smoking could lead to positive behavioral patterns. Adults who smoke also display neurotic behavior.

The study, Smoking Desistance and Personality Change in Emerging and Young Adulthood' was published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Smokers were categorized into two distinct personality types, depending on either impulsivity or neuroticism in young adults.

Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Science, found that those with higher levels of impulsivity and neuroticism were more likely to engage in detrimental behavior, such as smoking.

In the study, the researchers compared young adults, aged 18-35, who smoked with those who had quit smoking. They found that individuals who still smoked were higher in either their impulsivity or exhibited neuroticism during early adulthood.

Littlefield also found that those who quit smoking had the biggest declines in impulsivity and neuroticism from ages 18 to 25. The researchers defined impulsivity as acting without thinking about the consequences, while neuroticism was explained as being emotionally negative and anxious, most of the time.

The data indicate that for some young adults smoking is impulsive, said Littlefield. He explained that 18-year-olds act without a lot of forethought and that they favor immediate rewards over long-term negative consequences.

They might say, 'I know smoking is bad for me, but I'm going to do it anyway.' However, we find individuals who show the most decreases in impulsivity also are more likely to quit smoking. If we can target anti-smoking efforts at that impulsivity, it may help the young people stop smoking, Littlefield added.  

Smokers at age 18 had higher impulsivity rates than non-smokers at age 18, and those who quit tended to display the steepest declines in impulsivity between ages 18 and 25, he noted.

However, as a person ages and continues to smoke, smoking becomes part of a regular behavior pattern and less impulsive. The motives for smoking later in life -- habit, craving, loss of control and tolerance -- are key elements of smoking dependence and appear to be more independent of personality traits, he explained.

Despite the evidence from this study, substance use is still a complex relationship of genetic and environmental factors, he added.