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J Abnorm Psychol. 2011 May;120(2):336-51. doi: 10.1037/a0022501.

Externalizing psychopathology and behavioral disinhibition: working memory mediates signal discriminability and reinforcement moderates response bias in approach-avoidance learning.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 East 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Research has suggested that reduced working memory capacity plays a key role in disinhibited patterns of behavior associated with externalizing psychopathology. In this study, participants (N = 365) completed 2 versions of a go/no-go mixed-incentive learning task that differed in the relative frequency of monetary rewards and punishments for correct and incorrect active-approach responses, respectively. Using separate structural equation models for conventional (hit and false alarm rates) and signal detection theory (signal discriminability and response bias) performance indices, distinct roles for working memory capacity and changes in payoff structure were found. Specifically, results showed that (a) working memory capacity mediated the effects of externalizing psychopathology on false alarms and discriminability of go versus no-go signals; (b) these effects were not moderated by the relative frequency of monetary rewards and punishments; (c) the relative frequency of monetary rewards and punishments moderated the effects of externalizing psychopathology on hits and response bias for go versus no-go responses; and (d) these effects were not mediated by working memory capacity. The findings implicate distinct roles for reduced working memory capacity and poorly modulated active approach and passive avoidance in the link between externalizing psychopathology and behavioral disinhibition.

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