Waiting Impulsivity (Drinkers Tend To Jump The Gun)

Why do people make bad choices by rushing into decisions?

The tendency to have low behavioral control is one of the hallmarks of people prone to alcohol use disorders. A new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge sheds light on why people with alcohol use disorders make one form of maladaptive decision-making, the tendency to “jump the gun.”

It has already been established that rodents with high waiting impulsivity (the tendency to respond prematurely) are more likely to develop addiction-like behaviors. Researchers, led by Cambridge’s Dr. Valerie Voon, mapped the neural correlates of behavioral control using a translational task and resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging in order to examine the same type of impulsivity in humans.

Waiting Impulsivity

They found that waiting impulsivity in healthy volunteers is associated with lower connectivity of the subthalamic nucleus with ventral striatum and subgenual cingulate, brain regions similarly implicated in rodent studies.

In a second set of studies, they show that binge drinkers display elevated impulsivity and that both binge drinkers and individuals with alcohol use disorders have reduced subthalamic nucleus connectivity.

Voon, a Wellcome Trust Fellow at the University of Cambridge, explains:

“The same connections are impaired in alcohol misuse across social drinkers, binge drinkers and alcohol dependent subjects. Connectivity of the subthalamic nucleus, a brain region involved in switching from automatic to controlled behaviors, can classify problem drinkers from social drinkers.”

Laurel S. Morris, Prantik Kundu, Kwangyeol Baek, Michael A. Irvine, Daisy J. Mechelmans, Jonathan Wood, Neil A. Harrison, Trevor W. Robbins, Edward T. Bullmore, Valerie Voon
Jumping the Gun: Mapping Neural Correlates of Waiting Impulsivity and Relevance Across Alcohol Misuse
Biological Psychiatry, 2016; 79 (6): 499 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.06.009

Image: NIH