Original Investigation


, Volume 186, Issue 1, pp 32-40

First online:

Adaptive and maladaptive impulsivity, platelet monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity and risk-admitting in different types of risky drivers

  • Marika PaaverAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Centre of Behavioural and Health Sciences, University of Tartu
  • , Diva EensooAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Centre of Behavioural and Health Sciences, University of Tartu
  • , Aleksander PulverAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Tallinn
  • , Jaanus HarroAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Centre of Behavioural and Health Sciences, University of Tartu Email author 

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Platelet monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity reflects serotonergic functioning associated with impulsive behaviour, but the significance of these associations to real-life impulsive behaviour in healthy subjects is not clear.


The present study explores impulsivity and platelet MAO activity among people with driving violations.

Materials and methods

We compared facets of impulsivity and platelet MAO activity in 1,004 male drivers, out of whom 203 had been caught by the police driving drunk and 292 had been caught exceeding speed limits and committing other non-alcohol-related driving violations. Subjects with speeding and other non-alcohol-related violations were further divided according to their self-reported risk-admitting of exceeding speed limits.


While drunk driving was associated only with maladaptive types of impulsivity, exceeding speed limits was associated with functional impulsivity and excitement seeking and, to a lesser degree, with dysfunctional impulsivity. Drunk drivers had lower platelet MAO activity. Risk-admitting high-risk drivers had higher platelet MAO activity, neuroticism-related impulsivity, dysfunctional impulsivity and excitement seeking compared to all other groups and higher functional impulsivity compared to controls. Risk-denying high-risk drivers had only higher functional impulsivity compared to controls.


This study demonstrates different expressions of functional and dysfunctional impulsivity in behaviour. While platelet MAO activity is lower in alcohol-related risky behaviour, non-alcohol-related self-acknowledged risky behaviour is related to higher platelet MAO activity. Thus, deviance towards lower as well as higher end of central serotonergic functioning may lead to impulsive behaviour. While self-reported impulsivity did not correlate with MAO activity, both MAO activity and impulsivity were related to risky behaviour.


Impulsive behaviour Functional impulsivity Dysfunctional impulsivity Drunk driving High-speed driving Central serotonergic activity Serotonin Alcoholism Smoking Risk perception