New Research Lab to Study Impulsive Behavior in Children and Adults

March 8, 2005

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A new research laboratory for the study of impulsivity in adults and children has opened in a renovated building at the corner of Cloverdale and Medical Center Boulevard at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The Neurobehavioral Research Laboratory and Clinic (NRLC), a division of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, includes interview rooms, a physical examination room, monitored laboratory performance assessment rooms, two central monitoring control rooms, a sound-proof testing room, biochemistry lab, and separate waiting rooms for men, women and children.

Donald M. Dougherty, Ph.D., director of the NRLC, and his colleagues have spent the past 13 years developing several psychological tests to measure impulsive behavior. Impulsive behavior is a tendency for quick unplanned reactions without considering any negative consequences..

Dougherty, professor and vice chairman of research of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, and his colleagues, Dawn M. Marsh, Ph.D., Charles W. Mathias, Ph.D., and Merideth Addicott, B.A., were recruited as a group from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston this past summer. Local additions to the research group include Marleen O. Jennings, B.S., and Crystal B. Evans.

The various computerized tests used during the NRLC studies examine different aspects of impulsive behavior, such as how different individuals: (1) process events, (2) stop their responses to those events, and (3) assess the consequences of those responses.

“Too rapid processing of an event, difficulty stopping a response in light of new information, or an inability to consider the consequences of one's actions can lead some individuals to respond thoughtlessly, or even recklessly,” Dougherty said.

With the help of study volunteers, the researchers assess the different aspects of impulsivity that contribute to inappropriate impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Potential participants go through a series of screenings, including psychological and physical exams, before being accepted into a research study.

During a study, the volunteers perform the computerized evaluations in individual laboratory assessment rooms and, in between assessments, they spend time reading, relaxing, or watching TV in the waiting rooms.

With the help of past study volunteers, Dougherty's group has gathered data to help scientists better understand the behavioral, physiological, and biological differences among individuals that contribute to impulsive and aggressive behaviors.

Dougherty and his group conduct multiple studies to examine impulsive and aggressive behaviors in adolescents and adults. Ongoing studies assess impulsive processes among children with Conduct Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Among adults, the research team also examines how alcohol consumption can increase impulsive and aggressive behaviors in some adults, but not others.

“The aims of this research are to predict individual responsiveness to treatment and identify underlying mechanisms in these behavioral disorders,” said Dougherty.

Dougherty has shared his computerized assessments at no charge with 85 research laboratories in 17 countries around the world. These psychological assessments and the special NRLC facilities will help him and his colleagues test a number of research hypotheses.

To volunteer for the studies, call Marleen Jennings at (336) 713-3815 or email


Media Contacts: Robert Conn,, Shannon Koontz,, or Karen Richardson,, at 336-716-4587.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,298 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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