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Approved research

Latent phenotypes of impulsivity

Principal Investigator: Dr Samuel Chamberlain
Approved Research ID: 43332
Approval date: October 29th 2019

Lay summary

The concept of 'impulsivity' is important in understanding common human behaviours but also several mental health conditions. Impulsivity refers to behaviours that are risky, hasty, unwise, and not fully thought through. Examples of impulsivity include speaking out-of-turn, rushing through amber traffic lights, or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and getting into trouble. Impulsivity is central to understanding several mental health conditions that are extremely common and functionally impairing, including substance (e.g. alcohol) use disorders, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Collectively these mental health conditions associated with impulsivity have major damaging effects on quality of life, negative economic effects, and do not always get better even with the best available treatments. Psychiatry traditionally relies on 'categorical' approaches for understanding symptoms - i.e. the use of 'diagnostic labels'. For example, if a person meets an arbitrary number of diagnostic criteria for symptoms beginning in childhood, they may be diagnosed with ADHD. This categorical approach has only gone so far in allowing us to understand the causes of mental health disorders, reasons for why they exist together ('co-morbidity'), and treat affected individuals. This proposal shall explore so-termed 'latent' measures of impulsivity and mood dysregulation: this refers to measuring these ideas along a number continuum using a rich set of complementary measures and advanced statistical methods, rather than just using a threshold of 'yes' or 'no' for there being a mental health problem or not. By examining if there are common features that explain the existence of many types of impulsive behaviours and traits, the study will then use these latent measures to explore the possible causes and biological mechanisms that predispose to a range of mental health problems. In turn, we hope that this will help mental health professionals and researchers better understand the causes behind normal and problem behaviours (e.g. genes, inflammation that can affect brain function, developmental issues (such as bullying and trauma), and biological mechanisms (e.g. how the brain acts as a network to process information, in order to regulate our impulses and control our habits).