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Open Access Research article

Impulsivity and pathological gambling: Is it a state or a trait problem?

Florence DM Lai12, Alison KY Ip12 and Tatia MC Lee123*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China

2 Laboratory of Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China

3 The State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:492  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-492

Published: 13 November 2011

Abstract

Background

This study tested 37 Chinese male pathological gamblers and 40 controls to understand the relationship between pathological gambling and impulsivity as a long-term trait or a short-term state in the cognitive and affective domain.

Results

Trait impulsivity was measured by the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11. State impulsivity in the cognitive and affective domains were measured by the Stroop Color Word Test and the Emotional Conflict Task, respectively. The pathological gamblers scored significantly higher than the controls on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11. However, there were no significant group differences in performance on the Stroop Color Word Test or the Emotional Conflict Task.

Conclusions

Findings clearly show that pathological gambling is associated with trait but not state impulsivity. In other words, pathological gambling is associated with an impulsivity stemming from enduring personality characteristics that lead gamblers to focus on short-term gains (trait impulsivity) rather than momentary cognitive or affective disinhibition (state impulsivity). Interventions should aim to change pathological gamblers' habitual functioning style by cultivating healthy reflection habits and focusing on long-term rewards.