Impulsivity in personality disorders: current views and future directions

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Purpose of review

Impulsivity is considered a trans-diagnostic feature of many mental disorders, yet our understanding of the concept and approaches to measurement have evolved significantly with advances in neuroimaging. This review will provide an overview of impulsivity as it is currently understood, its association with personality disorder and implications for treatment.

Recent findings

Impulsivity is now considered to involve failure of inhibitory control, either motor or cognitive, and deficits of the reward valuation system. Inhibitory control, and discounting of rewards are both independently associated with personality disorder. The tendency to choose immediate rewards over those with an associated delay is a feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) regardless of conditions of stress. Deficits in response inhibition were also associated with BPD and were worsened under conditions of stress. These findings indicate that state impulsivity has an important role in the expression of impulsive behaviour. Exploratory studies measuring changes in these networks following psychotherapy have confirmed such methods could be used to measuring treatment response.


Understanding the discrete mechanisms of impulsive decision-making and behavior, and their implications in personality disorder, offers new targets for diagnosis and intervention. Future research should aim to understand changes of impulsivity with development. Identifying the role of psychological and pharmacological intervention in modulating the development of impulsivity may prevent progression to personality disorder, and associated adverse outcomes.

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