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J Psychiatr Res. 2009 Aug;43(12):1057-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Apr 5.

Trait impulsivity and response inhibition in antisocial personality disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Texas Health Science Center, 1300 Moursund Street, Room 270, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Impulsive behavior is a prominent characteristic of antisocial personality disorder. Impulsivity is a complex construct, however, representing distinct domains of cognition and action. Leading models refer to impulsivity as an inability to evaluate a stimulus fully before responding to it (rapid-response impulsivity), and as an inability to delay responding despite a larger reward (reward-delay impulsivity). We investigated these models in terms of the diagnosis and severity of antisocial personality disorder.


Thirty-four male subjects on probation/parole who met DSM-IV criteria for ASPD, and 30 male healthy comparison subjects, matched by ethnicity, were recruited from the community. The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11) provided an integrated measure of trait impulsivity. Rapid-response impulsivity was assessed using the Immediate Memory Task (IMT), a continuous performance test. Reward delay impulsivity was assessed using the Two-choice Impulsivity Paradigm (TCIP), where subjects had the choice of smaller-sooner or larger-delayed rewards, and the Single Key Impulsivity Paradigm (SKIP), a free-operant responding task.


Compared to controls, subjects with ASPD had higher BIS-11 scores (Effect Size (E.S.)=0.95). They had slower reaction times to IMT commission errors (E.S.=0.45). Correct detections, a measure of attention, were identical to controls. On the SKIP, they had a shorter maximum delay for reward (E.S.=0.76), but this was not significant after correction for age and education. The groups did not differ on impulsive choices on the TCIP (E.S.<0.1). On probit analysis with age and education as additional independent variables, BIS-11 score, IMT reaction time to a commission error, and IMT positive response bias contributed significantly to diagnosis of ASPD; SKIP delay for reward did not. Severity of ASPD, assessed by the number of ASPD symptoms endorsed on the SCID-II, correlated significantly with commission errors (impulsive responses) on the IMT, and with liberal IMT response bias. This relationship persisted with correction for age and education.


These results suggest that ASPD is characterized by increased rapid-response impulsivity. Aspects of impulsivity related to reward-delay or attention appear relatively intact.

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