Examining the factors associated with impulsivity in forensic populations: A systematic review [2020]

• Impulsiveness considered a risk factor for violence in forensic populations

• Systematic review of factors associated with impulsivity in forensic populations

• Elevated impulsivity linked to TBI, substances or alcohol misuse, trauma and poor sleep

Elevated levels of impulsivity are considered a significant risk factor for violent behaviour within forensic populations but our knowledge of the causes of impulsivity in this group remains limited. This review collates and critically evaluates existing research examining factors associated with impulsive behaviour in forensic populations.

A systematic review of the current literature was conducted. The electronic databases PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and ProQuest Criminal Justice and Social Sciences were searched. Methodological quality assessment of eligible articles was completed prior to a narrative synthesis of findings.

Nine studies were included for review. Identified studies were rated as either of “adequate” or “good” quality. Studies were limited in their use of prospective, longitudinal methodological designs to assess the relationship between study variables and impulsive behaviour. Factors associated with increased impulsivity included traumatic brain injury, substance or alcohol misuse, traumatic experiences and difficulty sleeping.

There remains little evidence regarding the underlying factors associated with impulsivity in forensic groups or, whether these might differ from those in the wider population; a question that will require further research. Those factors associated with impulsivity in forensic populations thus far; trauma, head injury, alcohol and substance misuse and poor sleep quality, provide the opportunity for more targeted screening for, and treatment of, impulsivity.

Max Alford, Suzanne O’Rourke, Patrick Doyle, Lynda Todd
Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 54, September–October 2020