Exploring the pathophysiology of emotion-based impulsivity: The roles of the sympathetic nervous system and hostile reactivity.

The tendency to engage in impulsive behavior in the context of negative affect, known as negative urgency, has emerged as a powerful transdiagnostic predictor of behavioral dysregulation. Although general vulnerability to negative affect (neuroticism) correlates with negative urgency, not all neurotic individuals engage in urgent behavior. Given prior experimental evidence that sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation may promote emotion-related impulsivity, the present study examines tonic SNS activity as a moderator of the link between neuroticism and negative urgency. Participants (N = 194) completed measures of neuroticism and negative urgency, as well as a stress task. They also underwent assessment of tonic SNS activity (cardiac pre-ejection period). The link between neuroticism and negative urgency was strengthened for individuals with higher tonic SNS activity; however, this was not the case for behavioral performance on the task. A similar pattern was demonstrated for hostile reactivity to the stress task; increased hostile response partially explained the interaction between SNS activation and neuroticism on negative urgency. These findings suggest a potential facilitative role of the SNS in hostile reactivity and emotion-driven impulsivity among more neurotic individuals.