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Impulsive Behavior Center Found in the Brain


Many people engage in impulsive behavior, whether it’s shopping, talking too much, abusing alcohol, or gambling. Now researchers at Queen’s University say they have found the impulsive behavior center in the brain, and that such behavior can be improved with training.

Impulsive Behavior Affects Young and Old

Investigators used rats that were trained to control their impulsive responses until they were given a signal. The more the rats learned to control their impulses, the stronger were the electrical signals between the cells in the brain’s frontal lobe. This activity demonstrated that impulsivity can be seen in a specific area of the brain and is represented by a change in communication between neurons.

Now that researchers know where impulsive behavior is controlled and the factors that impact how such behavior is learned, they can use the information to tackle new ways to diagnose and treat disorders characterized by impulsive actions.

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The range of possibilities is wide. Children who have impulsive behaviors, for example, often have behavioral problems that stay with them into adulthood, notes Professor Cella Olmstead, the study’s principle investigator. Targeting and treating such behaviors early in life may help prevent and treat disorders in which impulsivity is a main feature, such as drug addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, compulsive shopping, and gambling.

Scott Hayton, a neuroscience PhD student who lead the research team, points out that young students often impulsively call out answers in a classroom until they learn to wait until they are called upon by their teacher. “Our research basically told us where the memory for this type of inhibition is in the brain, and how it is encoded.”

Although impulsivity is typically considered to be a personality trait, it can also be a large part of a bigger problem. Investigators have now identified the area of the brain and the mechanisms that control impulsive behavior, and such a discovery will hopefully lead to more effective diagnosis and treatment of conditions in which impulsivity has a negative impact on people’s lives.

Queen’s University news release