Inhibitory control and impulsive responses in neurodevelopmental disorders

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Abstract

The impairment of inhibitory control is often assumed to be the core deficit of several neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by poor impulse control. However, could the same deficit explain different clinical phenotypes? Evidence from behavioural studies is very mixed. This is partly because inhibition is a highly complex executive function. Thus, the different types of tasks that generically tap into inhibitory control are likely to provide different outcomes. Additionally, sample inhomogeneity in terms of age, comorbidity, and medical treatment are confounding factors. Therefore, to make a reliable assessment of the deficit of inhibitory control in a given disorder, the same task and samples with similar characteristics must be employed. This article reviews and discusses studies on five neurodevelopmental disorders with impaired impulse control where these criteria have been used: Tourette syndrome; obsessive-compulsive disorder; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; primary motor stereotypies; and autism spectrum disorder. Overall, they suggest that the mechanisms underlying the inability to control urges are extremely heterogeneous and cannot be ascribed to a general impairment of inhibition. These findings do not support the hypothesis that inhibitory deficits represent a transdiagnostic feature of neurodevelopmental disorders with poor impulse control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-526
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Volume63
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

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