If you can’t stop saying or doing things you later regret There’s a diagnostic test for you Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a method to know when an individual’s worst impulses could be considered pathological.
As it turns out, being more recklessly when your emotions run high could be related to the speed at which you react to visual stimuli, especially disturbing ones according to research recently published in the online issue of the journal Brain and Neuroscience Advances.
Harvard University and UC Berkeley, among others, were among the first to create an innovative method of the evaluation of “negative urgency,” a clinical form of impulsivity which is associated with depression as well as obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) eating disorders, self harm bipolar disorder ADHD and other conditions.
Negative urgency is traditionally measured using a self-report form However, to offer more accurate measures researchers have developed what they call an “emotional stop-signal task.”
“This new measure is exciting because it provides an easier way to determine the severity of urgency, which is a predictor of mental health issues,” said study co-lead author Sheri Johnson who is Sheri Johnson, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology.
The emotional stop-signal test included 450 participants, 150 of whom were psychiatric patients. They were shown on an electronic screen a selection of disturbing and comforting photos including children playing with kittens and an emaciated famine sufferer, then rated each picture by hitting either an “positive” or “negative” button.
An upsetting photo was often followed by a “stop signal” to stop participants from reacting. People whose self-assessment showed poor impulse control were so fast on the trigger that they often react to the image even before the stop sign appeared.
“The results indicate that those who are motivated by negative emotions have more trouble controlling their impulses,” said J.D. This is significant because in the worst-case scenario, negative emotion-related impulsivity can lead to extreme behaviors such as suicide and self-harm,” said study co-author J.D. Allen is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, and a researcher at Oberlin College in Ohio.
The most commonly used measure to identify negative adversity is the UPPS -P Impulsive Behavior Scale, which measures such characteristics as acting without thinking, lack of persistence or focus and the desire to seek out exciting and thrilling experiences.
Impulsivity is often associated as being fun and spontaneous however, it can result in destructive or reckless behaviour towards oneself or others. It can also be difficult to tell when poor impulse control is age-appropriate and healthy versus an indication of mental illness, particularly for children who are young.
Allen explained that it’s normal for people to cry when they’re sad, or shout when they’re angry. “But when someone isn’t able to stop crying or gets angry, it could be a sign they are suffering from psychiatric problems and behavioral issues.”
What they did for the study
For the study the study, 450 adults were enrolled from universities and their surrounding communities and from psychiatric hospitals. They completed the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale to rate themselves on negative and positive urgency. Then, they looked at a fast-moving series of photos on a computer screen and categorized each image as either positive or negative.
Participants who scored high on the negative urgency scale had a tougher time resisting the urge to hit the button when confronted with unpleasant images.
To determine the reliability of the test over longer periods of times The 61 patients suffering from psychiatric disorders were tested twice at the time they were in hospital and again up to six months later after they were released. The results were consistent, indicating the stability of the test’s protocol.
Allen and Johnson hope their work will result in new ways to determine the risk of developing mental illness and pave the way for the development of new treatments. They also hope to see the assessment utilized in schools to detect potential psychiatric disorders earlier.
Allen said that the behavior test could be used to determine people most at risk for mental illness and assist them to receive the help they require to manage it or prevent a full-blown disorder.
Allen, K.J.D., Allen, K.J.D.. (2021) Validation of an emotional stop-signal test to probe individual differences in the emotional response inhibition: Relationships with positive and negative urgency. Brain and Neuroscience Advances. doi.org/10.1177/23982128211058269.
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