Behavior Genetics

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 455–463 | Cite as

The Genetic Correlation Between Impulsivity and Sensation Seeking Traits


A number of studies have demonstrated associations between sensation seeking traits and measures of impulsivity. This study examined genetic contributions to the observed correlations between imupulsivity and sensation seeking traits. Fifty-seven pairs of identical and 49 pairs of fraternal twins who were reared apart and 90 individuals who also participated in the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart completed the Control scale of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ; Tellegen, 1982) and the four subscales of the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS; Zuckerman, 1979), Consistent with previous studies, the Control scale was significantly correlated with the SSS. A Cholesky decomposition of the data indicated that the phenotypic correlations between the Control scale and the four subscales of the SSS were mediated almost entirely by genetic factors. In the final reduced model the proportion of the genetic variance of the Control scale in common with the SSS was estimated as 55%, and the rest of the genetic variance (45%) was attributed to the genetic variance specific to the Control scale. The results emphasize the importance of common biological mechanisms underlying associations between impulsivity and sensation seeking traits.

Impulsivity sensation seeking traits genetic correlation twin study Sensation Seeking Scale 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barratt, E. S., and Patton, J. H. (1983). Impulsivity: Cognitive, behavioral, and psychophysiological correlates. In Zuckerman, M. (ed.), Biological Bases of Sensation Seeking, Impulsivity and Anxiety, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 77–122.Google Scholar
  2. Bouchard, T. J., Jr. (1997). The genetics of personality. In Blum, K., and Noble, E. P. (eds.), Handbook of Psychoneurogenetics, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.Google Scholar
  3. Bouchard, T. J., Jr., Lykken, D. T., McGue, M., Segal, N. L., and Tellegen, A. (1990). Sources of human psychological difference: The Minnesota study of twins reared apart. Science 250:223–228.Google Scholar
  4. Cloninger, C. R., Adolfsson, R., and Svrakic, N. M. (1996). Mapping genes for human personality. Nat. Genet. 12:3–4.Google Scholar
  5. Daitzman, R. J., and Zuckerman, M. (1980). Disinhibitory sensation seeking, personality, and gonadal hormones. Personal. Individ. Diff. 1:103–110.Google Scholar
  6. Eaves, L. J., Martin, N. G., and Eysenck, S. B. G. (1977). An application of the analysis of covariance structure to the psychological study of impulsiveness. Br. J. Math. Stat. Psychol. 30:185–197.Google Scholar
  7. Eysenck, S. B. G., and Eysenck, H. J. (1977). The place of impulsiveness in a dimensional system of personality description. Br. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol. 16:57–68.Google Scholar
  8. Eysenck, S. B. G., and Eysenck, H. J. (1978). Impulsiveness and Venturesomeness: Their position in a dimensional system of personality description. Psychol. Rep. 43:1247–1255.Google Scholar
  9. Fulker, D. W., Eysenck, S. B. G., and Zuckerman, M. (1980). A genetic and environmental analysis of sensation seeking. J. Res. Person. 14:261–281.Google Scholar
  10. Koopmans, J. R., Boomsma, D. I., Heath, A. C., and van Doornen, L. J. P. (1995). A multivariate genetic analysis of sensation seeking. Behav. Genet. 25:349–356.Google Scholar
  11. Loehlin, J. C. (1992). Genes and Environment in Personality Development. Individual Differences and Development Series, Sage, Newbury Park, CA.Google Scholar
  12. Lykken, D. T. (1978). The diagnosis of zygosity in twins. Behav. Genet. 8:437–473.Google Scholar
  13. Lykken, D. T., McGue, M., and Tellegen, A. (1987). Recruitment bias in twin research: The rule of two-thirds reconsidered. Behav. Genet. 17:343–362.Google Scholar
  14. Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J., and Fulker, D. W. (1979). The genetical relationship of impulsiveness and sensation seeking to Eysenck's personality dimensions. Acta Genet. Med. Gemellol. 28:197–210.Google Scholar
  15. McGue, M., and Bouchard, T. J., Jr. (1984). Adjustment of twin data for the effects of age and sex. Behav. Genet. 14:325–343.Google Scholar
  16. Neale, M. C. (1995). Mx: Statistical Modeling, 3rd ed. Box 710, MCV, Richmond, VA 23298.Google Scholar
  17. Neale, M. C., and Cardon, L. R. (1992). Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families (NATO ASI Series D: Behavioral and Social Sciences, Vol. 67), Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  18. Pedersen, N. L., Plomin, R., McClearn, G. E., and Friberg, L. (1988). Neuroticism, extraversion and related traits in adult twins reared apart and reared together. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 55:950–957.Google Scholar
  19. Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., and McClearn, G. E. (1990). Behavioral Genetics: A Primer, W. H. Freeman, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Schalling, D., Edman, G., and Åsberg, M. (1983). Impulsive cognitive style and inability to tolerate boredom: Psychobiological studies of temperamental vulnerabilities. In Zuckerman, M. (ed.), Biological Bases of Sensation Seeking, Impulsivity and Anxiety, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 123–145.Google Scholar
  21. Schooler, C., Zahn, T. P., Murphy, D. L., and Buchsbaum, M. S. (1978). Psychological correlates of monoamine oxidase activity in normals. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 166:177–186.Google Scholar
  22. Tellegen, A. (1982). Brief manual for the Differential Personality Questionnaire, Unpublished manuscript. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.Google Scholar
  23. Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Jr., Wilkox, K., Segal, N. L., and Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 54:1031–1039.Google Scholar
  24. Zuckerman, M. (1974). The sensation seeking motive. In Maher, B. A. (ed.), Progress in Experimental Personality Research, Academic Press, New York, pp. 79–148.Google Scholar
  25. Zuckerman, M. (1979). Sensation Seeking: Beyond the Optimal Level of Arousal, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  26. Zuckerman, M. (1994). Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Zuckerman, M., Bone, R. N., Neary, R., Mangelsdorff, D., and Brustman, B. (1972). What is the sensation seeker? Personality trait and experience correlates of the Sensation-Seeking Scales. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 39:308–321.Google Scholar
  28. Zuckerman, M., Eysenck, S. B. G., and Eysenck, H. J. (1978). Sensation seeking in England and America: Cross-cultural, age and sex comparisons. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 46:139–149.Google Scholar
  29. Zuckerman, M., Ballenger, J. C., Jimerson, D. C., Murphy, D. L., and Post, R. M. (1983). A correlational test in humans of the biological models of sensation seeking, impulsivity, and anxiety. In Zuckerman, M. (ed.), Biological Bases of Sensation Seeking, Impulsivity and Anxiety, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 229–248.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MinnesotaMinneapolis
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolis

Personalised recommendations