Impulsivity and Anxiety


Impulsivity and anxiety are traits often found in many psychiatric disorders ranging from ADHD and bipolar disorder to post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia and generalised anxiety disorder. Recent advances in both clinical and preclinical research propose further division of these two traits into distinct subconstructs. Specific cognitive tasks used across species suggest differing neurobiology underlying these processes, advocating their sub‐division. The further categorisation of these two traits is hoped to lead to specific treatments which can then be given in combination to the patient, rather than trying to treat a single disorder in its entirety. This is beginning to be explored with the use of complementary cognitive tasks in both animals and humans.

Key Concepts:

  • Psychiatry is advancing to treat defined symptoms rather than single disorders.

  • Impulsivity and anxiety are two traits thought to be distinct entities both in neural and psychological terms.

  • Division of these traits into subforms has been shown to correlate better with symptom diagnosis and therapeutic potential.

  • Establishment of these subforms is achieved with cross‐species tasks that model cognitive processes.

  • Future research using this approach aims to elucidate neurocognitive endophenotypes that may be symptomatic of more than one psychological disorder but readily treatable due to their defined characteristics.

Keywords: impulsivity; anxiety; cognitive tasks; animal models; neurocognitive endophenotypes; cortico‐striatal circuits

Figure 1.

Impulsivity and anxiety, two traits implicated in psychiatric disorders and their subforms with the cognitive tasks used to define them.



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Further Reading

Bishop SJ (2007) Neurocognitive mechanisms of anxiety: an integrative account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11(7): 307–316. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.05.008.

Graham BM and Milad MR (2011) The study of fear extinction: implications for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 168(12): 1255–1265. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2011.11040557.

Moeller FG, Barratt ES, Dougherty DM, Schmitz JM and Swann AC (2001) Psychiatric aspects of impulsivity. American Journal of Psychiatry 158: 1783–1793.

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Fernando, Anushka(Oct 2012) Impulsivity and Anxiety. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024010]