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

Max Alford, Suzanne O'Rourke, Patrick Doyle, Lynda Todd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: 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 forensic populations remains limited. The current review aims to collate and critically evaluate existing research examining the possible associations with impulsive behaviour in forensic populations.
Method: A systematic review of the current literature was conducted. Multiple electronic databases including 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.
Results: Nine studies were included for review. Overall, the research was rated to be of “adequate” to “good” quality. Studies were limited in their use of prospective, longitudinal methodological design to assess the relationship between study variables and impulsive behaviour. Factors associated with increased impulsivity which emerged included traumatic brain injury, substance or alcohol misuse, traumatic experiences and sleep problems.
Conclusions: There remains little evidence regarding the underlying factors linked with impulsivity in forensic groups and whether it differs from that in the normal population; a question that will require further research. Those factors associated with impulsivity in forensic populations thus far provide the opportunity for more targeted screening for, and treatment of, impulsivity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAggression and Violent Behavior
Early online date28 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Mar 2020


  • impulsivity
  • forensic
  • traumatic brain injury
  • substances
  • alcohol
  • trauma
  • sleep


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