NPL’s research areas

Works being led in the NPL are organized around five areas of research.

  1. Structural elements of personality

Works previously done in the NPL have demonstrated that the release of self-damaging impulsive behaviors and impulsive personality traits are associated with certain objects relations dimensions (non-conscious self-representations and representations of others) including quality emotional representations and emotional investment in moral standards. Additionally, NPL works have shown that negative urgency is associated with certain dysfunctional beliefs such as “self is powerless”, “others are not trustworthy”, and that “we must engage in impulsive behaviors to avoid being hurt emotionally.”

What are the psychological mechanisms that influence the relationship between these structural dimensions of personality and impulsive gestures? Do some of personality dimensions lead to experiencing intense and difficult to control emotions? Does the ability to internalize moral values and standards allow us to maintain our actions based on long-term goals without succumbing to our desires and immediate impulses? Do certain erroneous beliefs make an individual more likely to call on inappropriate strategies of affect regulation? The NPL’s first axis of research is interested in discovering more about all of these issues.

Ongoing research works in the NPL are interested in the probable role certain components of executive functions in the relationship between certain dimensions of objects relations and impulsive behaviors. For example, one of these studies aims to verify whether the cognitive processes involved in the updating of working memory information act as moderators in this previously mentioned relationship. Consistent with this hypothesis, these processes enable the individual focus attention on relevant targets in an emotionally charged social context, which would promote the development and maintenance of self-representations and other mixed valence (positive and negative) required to properly interpret social events. Mixed valence representations would favor more complex and nuanced emotional experiences and therefore decreasing the risk of impulsive behaviors.


Gagnon, J. & Daelman, S. (2011) An empirical study of the psychodynamics of borderline impulsivity: A preliminary report. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28, 341-362.

Gagnon, J., Daelman, S. & McDuff, P. (2013). Correlations of Impulsivity with Dysfunctional Beliefs Associated with Borderline Personality. North American Journal of Psychology, 15, 165-178.

  1. Dynamic elements of personality

The research works being led in the NPL have identified the existence of cognitive distortions being related to the negative urgency of impulsivity, which suggests that logic errors can disrupt thought process and increase the risk of impulsive behaviors. Indeed, some distortions including “short-term thinking” or “wants and needs confusion” can decrease delay gratification tolerance and reduce planning that take into account action consequences. Other distortions such as “emotional reasoning” can intensify emotional reactions and make perceived realities as less tolerable to the point where the individual feels the need to behave impulsively to get rid of their negative affects. Other studies have shown that the splitting mechanism is associated with impulsive self-damaging behavior frequency beyond the effects attributable to the structural elements of the personality as diffuse identity. In conclusion, the NPL works being carried out have demonstrated that the relationship between negative urgency and self-damaging behaviors is mediated by hostile attribution bias.

These data raise several new issues for the second axis of research for the NPL. Studies are underway in order to verify the existence of the relationship between dynamic elements of personality and certain components of executive functions on the frequency of impulsive behaviors. According to one hypothesis, the cognitive processes involved in the inhibition of a dominant response would act as moderators in the relationship. In accordance with this hypothesis, the weakness of cognitive processes in order to inhibit negative thought contents would increase the influence of the dynamic elements of the personality on the frequency of impulsive behaviors and the state of impulsivity. Additionally, the NPL plans the implementation of longitudinal and experimental studies to determine causal relationships between dynamic elements of personality and the negative urgency trait.


Gagnon, J., Daelman, S., McDuff, P. & Kocka, A. (2013). UPPS dimensions of impulsivity: Relationship with cognitive distortions and childhood maltreatment. Journal of Individual Differences, 34, 48-55.

Gagnon, J., McDuff, P., Daelman, S., & Fournier, S. (2015). Is hostile attributional bias associated with negative urgency and impulsive behaviors? A social-cognitive conceptualization of impulsivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 72, 18-23.

Gagnon, J. & Vintiloiu, A. (en révision). Do splitting and identity diffusion have independent contribution to borderline impulsive behaviors?

  1. Social neuroscience

The NPL’s third research axis is involved in social neuroscience. Social neuroscience is a new sub-discipline of cognitive neuroscience that focuses on the cerebral basis of social cognition. Amongst the issues of interest to social neuroscience, included is the issue on how we come to an understanding and representing others’ mind.

A current NPL research study uses electroencephalographic (EEG ) potentially related to (EPR) events , specifically its N400 component to directly measure brain activity underlying attribution of hostile intent as it unfolds in real time. This project will have a number of theoretical implications. First, it will verify whether the individual will immediately infer the likely intention of a character who have completed an ambiguous behavior after having read a story with a hostile or non-hostile social context. Additionally, this project will allow better understanding the cognitive mechanisms and personality traits associated with impulsive aggression from cerebral objective measure.


Gagnon, J., Aubin, M., Carrier Emond, F., Derguy, S., Bessette, M., & Jolicoeur, P. (2016). Neural mechanisms underlying attribution of hostile intention in nonaggressive individuals: an ERP study. International Journal of Psychophysiology. doi: 2016.08.007

Gagnon, J., Aubin, M., Carrier Emond, F., Derguy, S., Fernet Brochu, A., Bessette, M., & Jolicoeur, P. (2016). An ERP study on hostile attribution bias in aggressive and nonaggressive individuals. Aggressive Behavior. doi:10.1002/ab.21676

  1. Clinical perspective

Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) as well as individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may show pronounced impulsivity expressed by a variety of risky behaviors. These deregulated behaviors refer to actions that are difficult to control, frequently leading to impaired functioning for the individual and result in personal injury and negative consequences in social terms. Having a better understanding of the psychological mechanisms associated with these behaviors is important in order to prevent and effectively reduce these risk factors.

Although both people with BPD and those with TBI may suffer from weaknesses in executive functions that may be associated with impulsivity, the NPL ‘s research works have shown that there are certain fundamental differences between both clients in terms of psychological mechanisms associated with impulsivity. There are many challenges for researchers to understand, in order to assess and intervene appropriately for the needs of each clinical populations.

The NPL has a current project aiming to implement a rehabilitation center with a variety of validated research instruments for predicting impulsive behaviors consistent with a TBI. This project aims to start a clinical trial performance of tasks, auto / hetero- administered questionnaires and rating scales to correctly predict the number and type of impulsive behaviors observed in a natural intensive rehabilitation situation. Another NPL project is developing an instrument for screening socially inappropriate behaviors following a TBI. All these instruments will allow clinicians to identify clients who are at risk of behaving impulsively and to set up adapted means to prevent the occurrence of impulsive behaviors and their negative consequences.

Several different NPL projects are concerned with various psychological mechanisms (elements of personality, cognitive processes) associated with impulsivity in individuals with BPD or those with BPD traits.


Gagnon, J. (2005). La psychothérapie psychanalytique à la suite d’un traumatisme craniocérébral : présentation d’un cas clinique. Les publications du CRIR, 2, 47-65.

Gagnon, J. (2015). Déficits neuropsychologiques associés à l’impulsivité dans le trouble de la personnalité limite. Revue québécoise de psychologie, 36, 81-109.

Gagnon, J., Bouchard, M.-A., Rainville, C. (2006). Differential diagnosis between borderline personality disorder and organic personality disorder following traumatic brain injury. The Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 70 (1), 1-28.

Gagnon, J., Bouchard, M.-A., Rainville, C., Lecours, S. & St-Amand, J. (2006). Inhibition and object relations in borderline personality traits after traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 20, 67-81.

Gagnon, J., Henry, A., Decoste, F.-P., Ouellet, M., McDuff, P. & Daelman, S. (2013). Response to hypothetical social scenarios in individuals with traumatic brain injury who present inappropriate social behaviour: A preliminary report. Behavioral Sciences, 3, 72-98.

Kocka, A. & Gagnon, J. (2014). Definition of impulsivity and related terms following traumatic brain injury: A review of the different concepts and measures used to assess impulsivity, disinhibition and other related concepts. Behavioral Sciences, 4, 352-370.

  1. Theoretical perspective

NPL’s last axis of research aims to develop an integrative model of impulsivity. The social information processing model is the basis for NPL ‘s work on leading research on cognitive processes that become active in a given social situation and increase the risk of transmitting impulsive behaviors.

NPL research studies have identified that negative urgency is associated with cognitive difficulties present when interpreting social cues. It is possible that a defective information processing at this stage can intensify the individual’s emotional responses and negatively influence other steps such as selection of goal and the evaluation decision of response. The NPL plans to create studies to verify these assumptions and to evaluate the social information processing in impulsive individuals.


Gagnon, J. (en révision). How to integrate the object relations model with the traits model in the understanding of borderline impulsive behaviors: A theoretical contribution.

Gagnon, J. & Bouchard, M.-A. (2008). Towards More Integrated Neuroanatomical Models of Borderline Personality Disorder. In J.C. Hagen & E.I. Jensen (Eds), Personality Disorders: New Research (pp. 207-220). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Gagnon, J., McDuff, P., Daelman, S., & Fournier, S. (2015). Is hostile attributional bias associated with negative urgency and impulsive behaviors? A social-cognitive conceptualization of impulsivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 72, 18-23.


Investigational methods:

The NPL calls on several investigational methods in research projects such as laboratory cognitive tasks, EEG recordings with event related potentials, behavioral observations , interviews, as well as projective tests and questionnaires.


Research Grants:

Our research projects are funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada ( SSHRC) , the Québec Research Fund – Society and Culture ( FRQSC ), the Provincial Network adaptation – rehabilitation research (REPAR ), the Centre interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation of Greater Montreal (PIRC ) .