Behavioural characterisation of high impulsivity on the 5-choice serial reaction time task: specific deficits in 'waiting' versus 'stopping'

Behav Brain Res. 2009 Jan 23;196(2):310-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2008.09.021. Epub 2008 Oct 2.


Impulsivity is a core deficit of a number of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anti-social conduct disorder and drug addiction. Recent research has highlighted the multifaceted nature of impulsivity and the myriad of putative neural and psychological mechanisms thought to underpin behavioural syndromes of impaired self-control. Here we report a novel conceptualisation of impulsivity based on 'waiting' and 'stopping' efficiency with explanatory value in defining the psychological and neural basis of impulsivity and the high co-morbidity of brain disorders such as ADHD and drug addiction. Rats selected for high levels of impulsivity on a reaction time task analogous to the continuous performance test in humans exhibited correspondingly high levels of impulsive decision-making on a delay-of-reward task. The same rats, however, were unimpaired on a stop-signal task requiring inhibition of an already initiated motor response. The specific nature of this deficit in 'waiting impulsivity' was confirmed by unimpaired acquisition of appetitive Pavlovian conditioning, a putative ancillary measure of impulsive behaviour. These findings are significant in light of recent evidence linking impulsivity in rats to high levels of cocaine self-administration and development of compulsive cocaine seeking behaviour. We thus suggest that an inability to bridge delays to future rewards and reward-related stimuli is a candidate behavioural endophenotype that pre-disposes to clinical psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reward