Research Topic

Neural Mechanisms of Impulsivity and Compulsivity and their Clinical and Therapeutic Corollaries

About this Research Topic

The neural mechanisms that underpin the impulsivity/compulsivity constructs are arguably at the root of much of the dysfunctional decision making and action selection (and thus morbidity and mortality) seen in mental illness. Heightened impulsivity is a significant factor in addiction disorders, including gambling disorders, and the harmful behaviour associated with manic and hypomanic states. Furthermore, it is a contributing factor to suicide attempts as well as many of the manifestations of borderline and dissocial personality disorders and binge-eating disorders. On the other hand, in addition to Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compulsive behaviour is known to be associated with serious conditions such as restrictive and binge-related eating disorders and aspects of drug-seeking behaviour. When viewed as decision-making styles, impulsivity and compulsivity are often linked to the way future value is discounted, how available information is evaluated and through what mechanism alternate options are differentially favoured or persisted-upon.

Progress in elucidating the electrophysiological, anatomical and neuropharmacological corollaries of these processes is crucial if more effective and targeted treatments to various conditions are to emerge. For example, agents such as lithium, naltrexone and others, are known to help modulate morbidly high impulsivity but the precise -and possibly diverse- neurophysiological mechanisms involved remain speculative at best. Data originating from the use of electrophysiological neuromodulation in neurology have suggested a role for specific types of neural oscillations at specific anatomic loci as well as their interactions in impulsive and compulsive behaviour, yet much remains to be untangled for these insights to become useful in psychiatry. Finally, conditions associated with high compulsivity such as restrictive eating disorders can seemingly respond favourably to targeting that trait but relatively little work has focused on that domain.

In this Research Topic, we seek to address the issues described above with a particular focus on human studies of both impulsivity and compulsivity in health and disease, as well as their potential therapeutic modulation. Original research and reviews (both long and short-form) are sought. Relatively less explored methodologies such as human electrophysiology and neurochemistry (eg MEG, HD EEG, ECoG, PET), as well as clinical data would be desired but all approaches will be considered. Specific topics include but are not limited to:

• The electrophysiology of impulsive and compulsive choice.
• Pharmacological modulation of impulsivity and compulsivity (outside OCD) and their neurobiological corollaries.
• The neuropharmacology of impulsivity and compulsivity in addiction and gambling.
• Impulsivity and compulsivity in Parkinson’s disease.
• Implantable or external neuromodulation of impulsivity and compulsivity.
• Compulsivity and impulsivity in eating disorders.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The neural mechanisms that underpin the impulsivity/compulsivity constructs are arguably at the root of much of the dysfunctional decision making and action selection (and thus morbidity and mortality) seen in mental illness. Heightened impulsivity is a significant factor in addiction disorders, including gambling disorders, and the harmful behaviour associated with manic and hypomanic states. Furthermore, it is a contributing factor to suicide attempts as well as many of the manifestations of borderline and dissocial personality disorders and binge-eating disorders. On the other hand, in addition to Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compulsive behaviour is known to be associated with serious conditions such as restrictive and binge-related eating disorders and aspects of drug-seeking behaviour. When viewed as decision-making styles, impulsivity and compulsivity are often linked to the way future value is discounted, how available information is evaluated and through what mechanism alternate options are differentially favoured or persisted-upon.

Progress in elucidating the electrophysiological, anatomical and neuropharmacological corollaries of these processes is crucial if more effective and targeted treatments to various conditions are to emerge. For example, agents such as lithium, naltrexone and others, are known to help modulate morbidly high impulsivity but the precise -and possibly diverse- neurophysiological mechanisms involved remain speculative at best. Data originating from the use of electrophysiological neuromodulation in neurology have suggested a role for specific types of neural oscillations at specific anatomic loci as well as their interactions in impulsive and compulsive behaviour, yet much remains to be untangled for these insights to become useful in psychiatry. Finally, conditions associated with high compulsivity such as restrictive eating disorders can seemingly respond favourably to targeting that trait but relatively little work has focused on that domain.

In this Research Topic, we seek to address the issues described above with a particular focus on human studies of both impulsivity and compulsivity in health and disease, as well as their potential therapeutic modulation. Original research and reviews (both long and short-form) are sought. Relatively less explored methodologies such as human electrophysiology and neurochemistry (eg MEG, HD EEG, ECoG, PET), as well as clinical data would be desired but all approaches will be considered. Specific topics include but are not limited to:

• The electrophysiology of impulsive and compulsive choice.
• Pharmacological modulation of impulsivity and compulsivity (outside OCD) and their neurobiological corollaries.
• The neuropharmacology of impulsivity and compulsivity in addiction and gambling.
• Impulsivity and compulsivity in Parkinson’s disease.
• Implantable or external neuromodulation of impulsivity and compulsivity.
• Compulsivity and impulsivity in eating disorders.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

19 January 2021 Abstract
19 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

19 January 2021 Abstract
19 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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