Background: Impulsivity is a hallmark of problem gambling. However, impulsivity is not a unitary construct and this study investigated the relationship between problem gambling severity and two facets of impulsivity: impulsive action (impaired ability to withhold a motor response) and impulsive choice (abnormal aversion for the delay of reward).
Methods: The recruitment includes 65 problem gamblers and 35 normal control participants. On the basis of DSM-IV-TR criteria, two groups of gamblers were distinguished: problem gamblers (n = 38) and pathological gamblers (n = 27) with similar durations of gambling practice. Impulsive action was assessed using a response inhibition task (the stop-signal task). Impulsive choice was estimated with the delay-discounting task. Possible confounds (e.g., IQ, mood, ADHD symptoms) were recorded.
Results: Both problem and pathological gamblers discounted reward at a higher rate than their controls, but only pathological gamblers showed abnormally low performance on the most demanding condition of the stop-signal task. None of the potential confounds covaried with these results.
Conclusions: These results suggest that, whereas abnormal impulsive choice characterizes all problem gamblers, pathological gamblers' impairments in impulsive action may represent an important developmental pathway of pathological gambling.