Integrating affect and impulsivity: The role of positive and negative urgency in substance use risk

Gregory T. Smith, Melissa A. Cyders

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


Background The personality traits of positive and negative urgency refer to the tendencies to act rashly when experiencing unusually positive or negative emotions, respectively. Methods The authors review recent empirical work testing urgency theory (Cyders and Smith, 2008a) and consider advances in theory related to these traits. Results Empirical findings indicate that (a) the urgency traits are particularly important predictors of the onset of, and increases in, substance use in both children and young adults; (b) they appear to operate in part by biasing psychosocial learning; (c) pubertal onset is associated with increases in negative urgency, which in turn predict increases in adolescent drinking behavior; (d) variation in negative urgency trait levels are associated with variations in the functioning of an identified brain system; and (e) variations in the serotonin transporter gene, known to influence the relevant brain system, relate to variations in the urgency traits. Conclusion A recent model (Carver et al., 2008) proposes the urgency traits to be markers of a tendency to respond reflexively to emotion, whether through impulsive action or ill-advised inaction (the latter leading to depressive symptoms); this model has received empirical support. The authors discuss new directions for research on the urgency traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S3-S12
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper was supported by funds from three NIH grants: NIAAA , in the form of RO1 AA 016166 to Gregory T. Smith and K01 AA 020102 to Melissa A. Cyders, and NIDA , in the form of DA 005312 to Michael T. Bardo. Funding sponsors had no role in study design; data collection, analysis, interpretation; or in the preparation and submission of this report.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors


  • Negative urgency
  • Personality
  • Positive urgency
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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