Behavioral impulsivity paradigms: A comparison in hospitalized adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders

Donald M. Dougherty, James M. Bjork, R. Andrew Harper, Dawn M. Marsh, F. Gerard Moeller, Charles W. Mathias, Alan C. Swann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Scopus citations


Background: Behavioral impulsivity paradigms vary widely and studies using these measures have typically relied on a single measure used in isolation. As a result, comparisons between measures are difficult, with little consensus regarding which method may be most sensitive to individual impulsivity differences of different populations. Method: A single testing session of each of four different impulsivity tasks was completed by two groups of adolescents aged 13-17: hospitalized inpatients with disruptive behavior disorders (DBD; n=22) and controls (n = 22). Tasks included two rapid-decision (IMT/DMT and GoStop) and two reward-directed (TC and SKIP) impulsivity paradigms. Behavioral testing took place within 3 days of hospitalization for the adolescents with DBD. Results: Compared to controls, the DBD group exhibited higher commission error rates, lower inhibited response rates after a stop-signal, and twice as many reward-directed responses even after IQ differences between the groups were taken into account. When the four paradigms were compared, effect-size calculations indicated that the two rapid-decision paradigms were more sensitive to group differences than the reward-directed tasks. Conclusions: Despite the initiation of pharmacotherapy within the first 3 days of hospitalization, in contrast to the control group, the adolescents with DBD performed consistently with what has been operationally defined as impulsivity. Based on these results, these tasks appear to measure similar, but unique components of the impulsivity construct. With further study, laboratory behavioral paradigms may prove to be useful additions to current clinical diagnostic and treatment procedures in a variety of psychiatric populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1145-1157
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Conduct disorder
  • Disruptive behavior disorder
  • Impulsivity
  • Inhibition
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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