Impulse control disorders

There are a range of psychiatric disorders which have as a core feature an abnormality in either impulsivity or compulsivity. Impulsivity is an umbrella term which includes related features such as an inability to delay gratification, the tendency to act without thinking, the tendency to take risks and often the inability to learn from experience. Compulsivity refers to a pattern of repetitive behaviours that are often performed according to certain rules or in a stereotypical fashion.

Impulsivity and compulsivity may be viewed as diametrically opposed, or alternatively, as similar, in that each implies a dysfunction of impulse control. Each involves alterations within a wide range of neural processes including, for example, attention, perception, and coordination of a motor or cognitive response.

Impulse control disorders (such as pathological gambling, kleptomania etc) have an overlap with

  • addictive disorders (e.g. internet addiction and drug addiction)
  • compulsive spectrum disorders (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders)
  • certain personality disorders (eg. antisocial personality disorder)

These disorders are likely to arise from interactions between biological, personality and environmental factors. Improved understanding of the biology of underpinning these disorders will help identify better treatments for these disorders, which are generally acknowledged to be resistant to current therapies.

Research issues

  • What is the neurobiological basis of antisocial personality disorder?
  • What is the neural basis of craving in opiate addicts and can this be used to predict relapse?
  • What is the neural basis of risky and self-controlled choice and how are these abnormal in those with impulse control disorders?
  • What is the neural basis of distortions in body image and food preferences in eating disorders?
  • What is the neural and neurochemical basis of drug interventions to treat addictions and new targets be identified to allow the development of new treatments?

Principal investigators

Name Job title Email address
Professor Bill Deakin Professor of Psychiatry and Director NPU
Professor Ian Anderson Professor of Psychiatry
Dr Rebecca Elliott Senior Research Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience
Dr Gabriella Juhasz NEWMOOD Clinical Research Fellow
Dr Shane McKie Research Fellow
Krisztina Mekli (pdf, 170KB) PhD Student
Dr Anna Murphy Post-Doctoral Research Associate
Professor Steve Williams Professor of Imaging Science