Category: Cognitive Science / Cognitive Processes


A Pilot Study of Cognitive Control Training to Reduce Emotion-Related Impulsivity

Saturday, November 18
1:45 PM - 3:15 PM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom A, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Neurocognitive Therapies | Emotion | Treatment Development
Presentation Type: Symposium

Introduction: Impulsive reactivity to emotion is correlated with symptoms of many psychological disorders. Two-mode models of impulsivity predict that deficits in cognitive control may be one mechanism that would lead to this form of impulsivity. There is increasing evidence to support this hypothesis: Emotion-related impulsivity has been correlated with deficits in response inhibition, and to a lesser extent with deficits in working memory. In this study, we tested whether computerized cognitive control training targeting response inhibition and working memory would lead to decreased emotion-related impulsivity.

Method: Fifty-two participants with high scores on the Feelings Trigger Action scale, a measure of emotion-related impulsivity, were recruited for this study. Participants included a mix of community members and students, randomized to either a waitlist control group or immediate treatment.  The six-session cognitive training protocol included a Go/NoGo response inhibition task and the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) to train working memory. Pre and post-training measures evaluated impulsivity and cognitive control.

Results: 39 participants completed training. Results showed a significant decrease in Feelings Trigger Action scores, t(36) = 4.04, p < .001, Cohen’s dz= 0.66, with no comparable change among waitlist participants, t(18)= 1.16, p= 0.26. On cognitive tasks, a 2 (time) by 2 (task) ANOVA revealed a significant Time x Task interaction, F(1, 38)= 70.6, p < .001, partial η2= 0.65. Post-hoc t-tests showed that performance on the PASAT improved, t(38)= 10.22, p < .001, while performance on the Go/NoGo declined slightly, t(38)= 2.03, p= .05.

Conclusion: Findings of this pilot study reveal that cognitive control training is associated with significant decreases in emotion-related impulsivity in a non-clinical sample. These findings indicate that cognitive control training may be efficacious for reducing this particularly maladaptive form of impulsivity and support the future application of this approach to clinical samples. Mixed results on the cognitive tasks also suggest the need for further refinement of this training paradigm. 

Andrew D. Peckham

Clinical Psychology Intern and Clinical Fellow
McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School


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A Pilot Study of Cognitive Control Training to Reduce Emotion-Related Impulsivity

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