Impulsivity and Executive Functioning following Traumatic Brain Injury

Emma Sinclair

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Impulsivity is a multifaceted and complex construct which refers to actions which are ’poorly conceived, prematurely expressed ‘and often result in undesirable consequences’ (Daruna & Barnes, 1993). Recent studies have attempted to explore the relationship between impulsivity and executive functions (EF). However, these studies often fail to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of impulsivity resulting in several limitations in these studies, such as the inadequate definition and assessment of impulsivity. Impulsivity and impairments to EF are frequently seen following traumatic brain injury (TBI), injuries which are often very debilitating and impact on functioning and recovery. Consequently, this study aimed to address the limitations in the existing literature base regarding the relationships between these two constructs within the context of TBI. To do this, a correlational design was utilized. Fourteen individuals with TBI were recruited from a residential unit and asked to undertake a comprehensive assessment of impulsivity and EF. Pearson r correlations were conducted in order to explore the relationships between the various measures. The results were mixed, with many of the correlations failing to reach significance. Despite the number of non-significant findings, medium and large effect sizes were often found which suggested that, despite a lack of statistically significant correlation, caution should be taken before concluding that the domains lacked any association. Although the small sample size of the study meant it was underpowered, which could increase the risk of Type II error, the effect sizes did give an indication of the strength of some relationships. This does suggest that there could be underlying associations that the study was not sufficiently powered to identify. On these bases, cautious conclusions are made, particularly regarding the validity of the subdomain of ‘cognitive’ impulsivity and the overlaps between definitions of cognitive impulsivity and EFs. Furthermore, tentative suggestions are made as to whether, in individuals with TBI, cognitive impulsivity is better conceptualised as impaired EF and it is this what underlies impulsive action, rather than constituting a distinct subdomain of impulsivity.
Original languageEnglish
  • Macleod, Andy, Supervisor, External person
  • Mobini, Sirous, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017


  • TBI
  • Impulsivity
  • Executive Function
  • brain injury

Cite this