Distinctions in behavioral impulsivity: Implications for substance abuse research

Donald M. Dougherty, Charles W. Mathias, Dawn M. Marsh-Richard, R. Michael Furr, Sylvain O. Nouvion, Michael A. Dawes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: Researchers have clearly implicated impulsivity as having a key role in substance use disorders, and comparisons of self-report measures suggest that there are measurably different components of impulsive behavior. However, comparatively little research has been devoted to understanding the multidimensional nature of this construct using laboratory measures of impulsivity that may be more sensitive to tracking changes across time. Many studies have measured impulsivity, but this construct has been measured using methodologically different types of laboratory impulsivity paradigms that are often used in isolation. As a result, it is important to determine whether some of the most frequently used types of behavioral measures of impulsivity account for unique variance. METHODS: Here, we used factor analytical techniques in 2 studies to evaluate the independence of 3 of the most commonly used behavioral impulsivity paradigms. First, a factor analysis was conducted using previously collected data (n=204), and second, data were gathered specifically to replicate and extend the results of our original analysis (n=198). RESULTS: Both studies revealed 3 distinct factors, confirming our hypothesis of at least 3 components of impulsive behavior that can be measured by these methodologic approaches. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that researchers should carefully consider their selection of laboratory behavioral impulsivity measures, and that the measure(s) selected should be related to the particular underlying processes relevant to substance use disorders and treatment success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-73
Number of pages13
JournalAddictive Disorders and their Treatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Behavior
  • Factor analysis
  • Human
  • Impulsivity
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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