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Clin Psychol Rev. 2006 Aug;26(4):379-95. Epub 2006 Feb 28.

Behavioral models of impulsivity in relation to ADHD: translation between clinical and preclinical studies.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK.


Impulsivity, broadly defined as action without foresight, is a component of numerous psychiatric illnesses including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mania and substance abuse. In order to investigate the mechanisms underpinning impulsive behavior, the nature of impulsivity itself needs to be defined in operational terms that can be used as the basis for empirical investigation. Due to the range of behaviors that the term impulsivity describes, it has been suggested that impulsivity is not a unitary construct, but encompasses a variety of related phenomena that may differ in their biological basis. Through fractionating impulsivity into these component parts, it has proved possible to devise different behavioral paradigms to measure various aspects of impulsivity in both humans and laboratory animals. This review describes and evaluates some of the current behavioral models of impulsivity developed for use with rodents based on human neuropsychological tests, focusing on the five-choice serial reaction time task, the stop-signal reaction time task and delay-discounting paradigms. Furthermore, the contributions made by preclinical studies using such methodology to improve our understanding of the neural and neurochemical basis of impulsivity and ADHD are discussed, with particular reference to the involvement of both the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems, and frontostriatal circuitry.

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