Open Access Review

Impulsivity: present during euthymia in bipolar disorder? - a systematic review

Antonia L Newman1 and Thomas D Meyer2*

Author Affiliations

1 Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, St Nicholas Hospital, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 3XT, UK

2 Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

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International Journal of Bipolar Disorders 2014, 2:2  doi:10.1186/2194-7511-2-2

Published: 11 March 2014


Because impulsivity is part of the presentation of bipolar disorder (BD) and is associated with its course, this systematic review presents the evidence whether increased impulsivity is present in a stable, euthymic mood and therefore potentially a vulnerability marker for BD. A multi-faceted model of impulsivity was adopted to explore how different facets may relate differently to BD. The evidence was explored in relation to studies employing measures of trait impulsivity (in self-report format) and studies exploring impulsivity with behavioural paradigms. Behavioural paradigms were separated into studies measuring response inhibition and those measuring the ability to delay gratification. Twenty-three papers met the inclusion criteria. Most studies using self-report measures found significant differences between euthymic BD patients and healthy controls. There was little evidence of increased impulsivity as measured by behavioural paradigms. Most studies found no significant difference in response inhibition between groups, though it is possible that much of the literature in this area was underpowered to detect an effect. Only five studies explored delay of gratification, of which the two methodologically strongest studies found no group differences. In conclusion, there is evidence that euthymic patients with BD report increased impulsivity when using self-ratings. However, there is currently limited evidence of impulsivity on behavioural measures assessing response inhibition, and this might be restricted to more severe cases. More research is needed on the ability to delay gratification before drawing any conclusions. However, to establish facets of impulsivity as vulnerability markers, future studies should include at-risk individuals to evaluate whether self-rated or behavioural impulsivity precedes the onset of BD.

Bipolar disorder; Euthymia; Impulsivity; Self-report; Delay of gratification; Response inhibition