, Volume 221, Issue 3, pp 361–387 | Cite as

Are executive function and impulsivity antipodes? A conceptual reconstruction with special reference to addiction

  • Warren K. Bickel
  • David P. Jarmolowicz
  • E. Terry Mueller
  • Kirstin M. Gatchalian
  • Samuel M. McClure



Although there is considerable interest in how either executive function (EF) or impulsivity relate to addiction, there is little apparent overlap between these research areas.


The present paper aims to determine if components of these two constructs are conceptual antipodes—widely separated on a shared continuum.


EFs and impulsivities were compared and contrasted. Specifically, the definitions of the components of EF and impulsivity, the methods used to measure the various components, the populations of drug users that show deficits in these components, and the neural substrates of these components were compared and contrasted.


Each component of impulsivity had an antipode in EF. EF, however, covered a wider range of phenomena, including compulsivity.


Impulsivity functions as an antipode of certain components of EF. Recognition of the relationship between EF and impulsivity may inform the scientific inquiry of behavioral problems such as addiction. Other theoretical implications are discussed.


Executive function Impulsivity Addiction Drug abuse Substance abuse Compulsivity 



This work was funded by NIDA grants R01 DA 12997, R01 DA 024080, R01 DA 024080-02S1 (NIAAA), R01 DA 030241, R01 DA 022386. The authors would like to thank Patsy Marshall for assistance with manuscript preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Warren K. Bickel
    • 1
  • David P. Jarmolowicz
    • 2
  • E. Terry Mueller
    • 2
  • Kirstin M. Gatchalian
    • 2
  • Samuel M. McClure
    • 3
  1. 1.Addiction Recovery Research Center and Virginia Tech Department of PsychologyVirginia Tech Carilion Research InstituteRoanokeUSA
  2. 2.Addiction Recovery Research InstituteVirginia Tech Carilion Research InstituteRoanokeUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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