The WAGER, Vol 4(14) – Sensation-seeking and Impulsivity


Several studies have examined the relationship between pathological gambling, sensation seeking, and impulsivity. That the latter has received special attention is likely a function of DSM-IV’s classification of pathologi­cal gambling as an impulse control disorder (ICD). Lejoyeux, Feuche, Loi, Solomon, and Ades (1998) add to this discourse by employing a particularly interesting and rigorous methodology. Drawing from a population of patients hospitalized for alcohol detoxification, the authors assembled two age and sex-matched groups: one composed of alcoholics with ICDs and one composed of alcoholics with no ICD comorbidity. A third control group included subjects without psychiatric disorders, also age and sex-matched. The Zuckerman Sensation-Seeking Scale (SSS) was administered to measure general sensation-seeking and its components: thrill and adventure seeking, disinhibition, boredom susceptibility, and experience seeking. To measure impulsivity, the subject were scored on the Barratt Impulsiveness Rating Scale (BIS), whose components are non-planning activity, cognitive impulsivity, and motor impulsivity. The tables present the results.

Subjects with ICDs had higher sensation-seeking scores than their counterparts. In particular, differences were found for the disinhibition and experi­ence seeking components. In contrast, impulsivity scores among the three groups did not differ significantly. Thus, sensation-seeking and not impulsivity differentiates alcoholics with ICDs from those without. Of the ICD+ group, subjects diagnosed with pathological gambling tended to rate higher on the sensation-seeking scale than the ICD- group.

While the authors admit that the small size of their sample limits the power of their study, they have contributed significantly to the sensation-seeking and impulsivity debate that will likely grow in salience as future editions of the DSM-IV grapple with how to classify pathological gambling.

Source: Lejoyeux, M., Feuche, N., Loi, S., Solomon, J., & Ades, J. (1998). Impulse-control disorders in alcoholics are related to sensation seeking and not to impulsivity. Psychiatry Research, 81, 149-155

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