A new neurological study at Queen’s University has found that impulsive behavior can be improved with training, and that this improvement is marked by specific brain changes.
This new discovery was made by a research team led by neuroscience PhD student Scott Hayton. Their work has led to the ability to pinpoint the area of the brain that controls impulsive behavior and the mechanisms that affect how this behavior is learned.
“In the classroom, kids often blurt out answers before they raise their hand,” says Hayton. “With time, they learn to hold their tongue and put up their hand until the teacher calls them. We wanted to know how this type of learning occurs in the brain.” The team’s research located where the memory for this type of inhibition is in the brain, and how it is encoded.
Hayton’s team trained rats to control their impulsive responses until presented with a signal. The research showed that electrical signals between cells in the brain’s frontal lobe grew stronger as the rats learned to control their impulsivity. This showed that impulsivity is represented by a change in communication between neurons in a specific region of the brain.
Professor Cella Olmstead, the principal investigator on the study, notes that children who experience difficulty learning to control a response often have behavioral problems. These problems often extend into their adulthood.
Neuroscience professor Eric Dumont, a co-investigator on the research team, adds that in conditions where learning does not occur properly, it is possible that the mechanism that controls impulsivity has been impaired.
Impulsivity is a main feature of many disorders, including Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and gambling.
The findings of this research, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, will benefit the diagnosis and treatment processes for these conditions.
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