Inhibitory control contributes to "motor"--but not "cognitive"--impulsivity

Exp Psychol. 2013;60(5):324-34. doi: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000202.


Literature on impulsivity regularly claims inhibitory control deficits underlie impulsive behavior. The current study investigated whether taxing inhibitory control will increase reflection (decision making under conditions of uncertainty), temporal (delay of gratification), and motor impulsivity (behavioral disinhibition). Inhibitory control was challenged, via a random letter generation task presented during responding to three impulsivity measures: the Information Sampling Task (IST), Single Key Impulsivity Paradigm, and the Stop Signal Task (SST). Participants (n = 33) were assigned to the inhibitory control challenging (experimental) condition, or to a control condition in which inhibitory control was not challenged. The SST was affected by the inhibitory control challenge: participants in the experimental condition displayed increased motor impulsivity, evidenced in longer stop signal reaction times (SSRTs) compared to the control group. The manipulation did not affect reflection- or temporal- impulsivity measures. These data support the suggestion that the mechanisms underlying the motor subtype of impulsivity are dissociable from the temporal and reflection subtypes, and that engagement of inhibitory control is not necessary to prevent impulsive decision making.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Motor Activity
  • Reaction Time