, Volume 233, Issue 18, pp 3361–3370 | Cite as

The latent structure of impulsivity: impulsive choice, impulsive action, and impulsive personality traits

  • James MacKillopEmail author
  • Jessica Weafer
  • Joshua C. Gray
  • Assaf Oshri
  • Abraham Palmer
  • Harriet de Wit
Original Investigation



Impulsivity has been strongly linked to addictive behaviors, but can be operationalized in a number of ways that vary considerably in overlap, suggesting multidimensionality.


This study tested the hypothesis that the latent structure among multiple measures of impulsivity would reflect the following three broad categories: impulsive choice, reflecting discounting of delayed rewards; impulsive action, reflecting ability to inhibit a prepotent motor response; and impulsive personality traits, reflecting self-reported attributions of self-regulatory capacity.


The study used a cross-sectional confirmatory factor analysis of multiple impulsivity assessments. Participants were 1252 young adults (62 % female) with low levels of addictive behavior, who were assessed in individual laboratory rooms at the University of Chicago and the University of Georgia. The battery comprised a Delay (replace hyphen with space) Discounting Task, Monetary Choice Questionnaire, Conners’ Continuous Performance Test, Go/NoGo Task, Stop Signal Task, Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale.


The hypothesized three-factor model provided the best fit to the data, although sensation seeking was excluded from the final model. The three latent factors were largely unrelated to each other and were variably associated with substance use.


These findings support the hypothesis that diverse measures of impulsivity can broadly be organized into three categories that are largely distinct from one another. These findings warrant investigation among individuals with clinical levels of addictive behavior and may be applied to understanding the underlying biological mechanisms of these categories.


Impulsivity Addiction Delay discounting Behavioral inhibition Impulsive personality Confirmatory factor analysis 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Funding sources

This work was partially supported by National Institutes of Health grant R01 DA032015 (de Wit, Palmer, MacKillop) and the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research (MacKillop).

Supplementary material

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Table S1 (DOCX 14 kb)
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Table S2 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • James MacKillop
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jessica Weafer
    • 3
  • Joshua C. Gray
    • 4
    • 5
  • Assaf Oshri
    • 6
  • Abraham Palmer
    • 7
    • 8
  • Harriet de Wit
    • 3
  1. 1.Peter Boris Centre for Addictions ResearchMcMaster University/St. Joseph’s Healthcare HamiltonHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Homewood Research InstituteHomewood Health CentreGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeuroscienceUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Georgia AthensAthensUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry and Human BehaviorAlpert Medical School of Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  6. 6.Department of Human Development and Family ScienceUniversity of Georgia AthensAthensUSA
  7. 7.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  8. 8.Institute for Genomic MedicineUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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