Latent traits of impulsivity and compulsivity: towards dimensional psychiatry

15 Sep 2017

Background: The concepts of impulsivity and compulsivity are commonly used in psychiatry. Little is known about whether different manifest measures of impulsivity and compulsivity (behavior, personality, and cognition) map onto underlying latent traits; and if so, their inter-relationship. Methods: 576 adults were recruited using media advertisements. Psychopathological, personality, and cognitive measures of impulsivity and compulsivity were completed. Confirmatory Factor Analysis was used to identify the optimal model. Results: The data were best explained by a two factor model, corresponding to latent traits of impulsivity and compulsivity respectively, which were positively correlated with each other. This model was statistically superior to the alternative models of their being one underlying factor (“disinhibition”) or two anti-correlated factors. Higher scores on the impulsive and compulsive latent factors were each significantly associated with worse quality of life (both p<0.0001). Conclusions: This study supports the existence of latent functionally impairing dimensional forms of impulsivity and compulsivity, which are positively correlated. Future work should examine the neurobiological and neurochemical underpinnings of these latent traits; and explore whether they can be used as candidate treatment targets. The findings have implications for diagnostic classification systems, suggesting that combining categorical and dimensional approaches may be valuable and clinically relevant.