In need of constraint: Understanding the role of the cingulate cortex in the impulsive mind

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Impulsive behavior often occurs without forethought and can be driven by strong emotions or sudden impulses, leading to problems in cognition and behavior across a wide range of situations. Although neuroimaging studies have explored the neurocognitive indicators of impulsivity, the large-scale functional networks that contribute to different aspects of impulsive cognition remain unclear. In particular, we lack a coherent account of why impulsivity is associated with such a broad range of different psychological features. Here, we use resting state functional connectivity, acquired in two independent samples, to investigate the neural substrates underlying different aspects of self-reported impulsivity. Based on the involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in cognitive but also affective processes, five seed regions were placed along the caudal to rostral gradient of the ACC. We found that positive urgency was related to functional connectivity between subgenual ACC and bilateral parietal regions such as retrosplenial cortex potentially highlighting this connection as being important in the modulation of the non-prospective, hastiness – related aspects of impulsivity. Further, two impulsivity dimensions were associated with significant alterations in functional connectivity of the supragenual ACC: (i) lack of perseverance was positively correlated to connectivity with the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right inferior frontal gyrus and (ii) lack of premeditation was inversely associated with functional connectivity with clusters within bilateral occipital cortex. Further analysis revealed that these connectivity patterns overlapped with bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal and bilateral occipital regions of the multiple demand network, a large-scale neural system implicated in the general control of thought and action. Together these results demonstrate that different forms of impulsivity have different neural correlates, which are linked to the functional connectivity of a region of anterior cingulate cortex. This suggests that poor perseveration and premeditation might be linked to dysfunctions in how the rostral zone of the ACC interacts with the multiple demand network that allows cognition to proceed in a controlled way.

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