Relationships between trait impulsivity and cognitive control: the effect of attention switching on response inhibition and conflict resolution

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This study examined the relationship between trait impulsivity and cognitive control, as measured by the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS) and a focused attention dichotic listening to words task, respectively. In the task, attention was manipulated in two attention conditions differing in their cognitive control demands: one in which attention was directed to one ear at a time for a whole block of trials (blocked condition) and another in which attention was switched pseudo-randomly between the two ears from trial to trial (mixed condition). Results showed that high impulsivity participants exhibited more false alarm and intrusion errors as well as a lesser ability to distinguish between stimuli in the mixed condition, as compared to low impulsivity participants. In the blocked condition, the performance levels of the two groups were comparable with respect to these measures. In addition, total BIS scores were correlated with intrusions and laterality index in the mixed but not the blocked condition. The findings suggest that high impulsivity individuals may be less prone to attentional difficulties when cognitive load is relatively low. In contrast, when attention switching is involved, high impulsivity is associated with greater difficulty in inhibiting responses and resolving cognitive conflict than is low impulsivity, as reflected in error-prone information processing. The conclusion is that trait impulsivity in a non-clinical population is manifested more strongly when attention switching is required than during maintained attention. This may have important implications for the conceptualization and treatment of impulsivity in both non-clinical and clinical populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-103
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive Processing
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an EU Marie-Curie International Fellowship PIOF-GA-2009-236183 to Rotem Leshem. This study was conducted, while the author was a postdoc fellow in Eran Zaidel’s Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, in the Psychology Department at UCLA. I wish to thank him deeply for his mentorship and support, especially in the conceptualization of this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Attention
  • Cognitive control
  • Dichotic-listening
  • Laterality
  • Top-down processing


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