Dopamine, serotonin and impulsivity

Neuroscience. 2012 Jul 26;215:42-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.03.065. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Impulsive people have a strong urge to act without thinking. It is sometimes regarded as a positive trait but rash impulsiveness is also widely present in clinical disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), drug dependence, mania, and antisocial behaviour. Contemporary research has begun to make major inroads into unravelling the brain mechanisms underlying impulsive behaviour with a prominent focus on the limbic cortico-striatal systems. With this progress has come the understanding that impulsivity is a multi-faceted behavioural trait involving neurally and psychologically diverse elements. We discuss the significance of this heterogeneity for clinical disorders expressing impulsive behaviour and the pivotal contribution made by the brain dopamine and serotonin systems in the aetiology and treatment of behavioural syndromes expressing impulsive symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / metabolism
  • Impulsive Behavior / pathology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine