The latent structure of impulsivity: impulsive choice, impulsive action, and impulsive personality traits

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2016 Sep;233(18):3361-70. doi: 10.1007/s00213-016-4372-0. Epub 2016 Jul 23.


Rationale: Impulsivity has been strongly linked to addictive behaviors, but can be operationalized in a number of ways that vary considerably in overlap, suggesting multidimensionality.

Objective: This study tested the hypothesis that the latent structure among multiple measures of impulsivity would reflect the following three broad categories: impulsive choice, reflecting discounting of delayed rewards; impulsive action, reflecting ability to inhibit a prepotent motor response; and impulsive personality traits, reflecting self-reported attributions of self-regulatory capacity.

Methods: The study used a cross-sectional confirmatory factor analysis of multiple impulsivity assessments. Participants were 1252 young adults (62 % female) with low levels of addictive behavior, who were assessed in individual laboratory rooms at the University of Chicago and the University of Georgia. The battery comprised a Delay (replace hyphen with space) Discounting Task, Monetary Choice Questionnaire, Conners' Continuous Performance Test, Go/NoGo Task, Stop Signal Task, Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale.

Results: The hypothesized three-factor model provided the best fit to the data, although sensation seeking was excluded from the final model. The three latent factors were largely unrelated to each other and were variably associated with substance use.

Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that diverse measures of impulsivity can broadly be organized into three categories that are largely distinct from one another. These findings warrant investigation among individuals with clinical levels of addictive behavior and may be applied to understanding the underlying biological mechanisms of these categories.

Keywords: Addiction; Behavioral inhibition; Confirmatory factor analysis; Delay discounting; Impulsive personality; Impulsivity.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delay Discounting
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Personality*
  • Reward
  • Self Report
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult