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Conditioned Inhibition and its Relationship to Impulsivity: Empirical and Theoretical Considerations

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Abstract

Impulsivity is an important construct in many different fields of behavioral science. A number of authors consider response inhibition deficit as an important part of impulsive behavior. Viewpoints range from those claiming that such an inhibitory deficit is a fundamental feature of all manifestations of impulsivity, to those that consider that it is just one of various independent components of impulsive behavior. In this article, we review some of the most common laboratory procedures used to evaluate response inhibition and their relation to impulsivity. We focus on one of these procedures, conditioned inhibition, which has fallen into neglect in the impulsivity literature. We consider three main reasons for this: (1) harsh critiques of the concept of inhibition by influential theorists, (2) difficulties with the control procedures needed to demonstrate conditioned inhibition, and (3) an apparent mismatching between conditioned-inhibition performance and typical definitions of response inhibition. We provide evidence and arguments that could help to overcome those critiques and methodological and conceptual barriers. We also note that the conditions assumed to induce conditioned inhibition are present in some other paradigms designed to measure impulsivity. If our assertions are correct, then studying conditioned inhibition as a learning process is of great importance for understanding impulsive behavior. Further research is needed to test how critical conditioned inhibition is to impulsivity.

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Acknowledgements

The preparation of this manuscript was supported by the Dirección General de Asuntos del Personal Académico (DGAPA) postdoctoral fellowship grant (UNAM, 2016-2017) and by the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (SNI) grant (file 64324). Special thanks to the Facultad de Psicología and the Laboratorio de Mecanismos Neurales y Cognitivos del Aprendizaje. We thank Daniel Pearce, Nicole Muszynski, and Fred Westbrook for their helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rodrigo Sosa.

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Rodrigo Sosa and Cristiano V. dos Santos declare that they have no conflict of interest; we have no financial relationship with the organization that sponsored the research.

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Sosa, R., dos Santos, C.V. Conditioned Inhibition and its Relationship to Impulsivity: Empirical and Theoretical Considerations. Psychol Rec 69, 315–332 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-018-0325-9

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Keywords

  • Conditioned inhibition
  • Impulsivity
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Response inhibition
  • Self-control
  • Soft-commitment