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Sex differences in impulsivity: A meta-analysis

Cross, C.; Copping, L.; Campbell, A.

Sex differences in impulsivity: A meta-analysis Thumbnail


C. Cross

L. Copping

A. Campbell


Men are overrepresented in socially problematic behaviors, such as aggression and criminal behavior, which have been linked to impulsivity. Our review of impulsivity is organized around the tripartite theoretical distinction between reward hypersensitivity, punishment hyposensitivity, and inadequate effortful control. Drawing on evolutionary, criminological, developmental, and personality theories, we predicted that sex differences would be most pronounced in risky activities with men demonstrating greater sensation seeking, greater reward sensitivity, and lower punishment sensitivity. We predicted a small female advantage in effortful control. We analyzed 741 effect sizes from 277 studies, including psychometric and behavioral measures. Women were consistently more punishment sensitive (d = −0.33), but men did not show greater reward sensitivity (d = 0.01). Men showed significantly higher sensation seeking on questionnaire measures (d = 0.41) and on a behavioral risk-taking task (d = 0.36). Questionnaire measures of deficits in effortful control showed a very modest effect size in the male direction (d = 0.08). Sex differences were not found on delay discounting or executive function tasks. The results indicate a stronger sex difference in motivational rather than effortful or executive forms of behavior control. Specifically, they support evolutionary and biological theories of risk taking predicated on sex differences in punishment sensitivity. A clearer understanding of sex differences in impulsivity depends upon recognizing important distinctions between sensation seeking and impulsivity, between executive and effortful forms of control, and between impulsivity as a deficit and as a trait.


Cross, C., Copping, L., & Campbell, A. (2011). Sex differences in impulsivity: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 137(1), 97-130.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2011
Deposit Date Jan 26, 2012
Publicly Available Date Jan 4, 2013
Journal Psychological Bulletin
Print ISSN 0033-2909
Electronic ISSN 1939-1455
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 137
Issue 1
Pages 97-130


Accepted Journal Article (2.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

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