Distinctions in Behavioral Impulsivity: Implications for Substance Abuse Research

Addict Disord Their Treat. 2009 Jun 1;8(2):61-73. doi: 10.1097/ADT.0b013e318172e488.


OBJECTIVES: Researchers have clearly implicated impulsivity as having a key role in substance use disorders, and comparisons of self-report measures suggest 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 two studies to evaluate the independence of three of the most commonly used behavioral impulsivity paradigms. First, a factor analysis was conducted using previously collected data (n = 204), and second, data was gathered specifically to replicate and extend the results of our original analysis (n = 198). RESULTS: Both studies revealed three distinct factors, confirming our hypothesis of at least three components of impulsive behavior that can be measured by these methodological 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.