Compulsive Behaviour

Module titleCompulsive Behaviour
Module codePSY3427
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Natalia Lawrence (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Why do some people lose control over their behaviour? This seminar will examine the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying impulsive-compulsive behaviour in psychological disorders ranging from OCD and substance use to the more recently recognised behavioural ‘addictions’ (problem gambling, over-eating). Certain symptoms associated with mood disorders, such as mania and suicidal behaviour, will also be considered within the impulsive-compulsive framework. Research findings from genetic, animal, neuroimaging and clinical studies will be discussed in order to understand the risk factors and underlying mechanisms associated with impulsive and compulsive behaviour. We will also consider the implications for the prevention and treatment of relevant disorders.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to provide you with a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the neural and psychological bases of disorders of compulsion, including knowledge and understanding of relevant theories and research methods.

Through attending the weekly seminars and completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills: problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, showing entrepreneurial awareness, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems), managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities), time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group), collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe systematically and in detail the role of impulsive-compulsive behaviour in several psychological disorders, including the risk factors involved
  • 2. Illustrate the underlying neural and psychological mechanisms of impulsive-compulsive behaviours, and the implications for treatment
  • 3. Evaluate the main theoretical bases, research methods, and empirical findings in research related to impulsive-compulsive behaviour

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Acquire detailed, systematic and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas, and demonstrate advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge
  • 5. Review and critically evaluate published work and identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work, and at an advanced level structure this literature to present logical, coherent and sustained arguments to support conclusions
  • 6. Think critically, creatively, and independently, and fully appreciate the complexities of the issues

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Select and manage information, and undertake competently study tasks with minimum guidance; manage time effectively to meet deadlines
  • 8. Interact effectively and supportively within a learning group and analyse and present material through small group work
  • 9. Translate / apply research findings into implications for public policy and current affairs and articulate these ideas clearly

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will cover the following over the 11 weeks of seminars:

  • Introduction to impulsive and compulsive behaviour
  • Overview of key theoretical concepts and relevant psychological disorders.

Seminars will then focus on the role of impulsive -compulsive behaviour in each of the following disorders, including the genetic, trait (individual difference) and environmental risk factors; the underlying neural and psychological mechanisms (particularly brain mechanisms underlying reward, learning and cognitive control); and the implications for treatment:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Substance use and alcoholism.
  • Pathological gambling.
  • Eating disorders (obesity, food ‘addiction’, bulimia).
  • Mania / hypomania.
  • Suicidal behaviour.

Finally, we will bring everything together under one impulsive-compulsive behaviour framework.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Teaching and Learning3311 x 3 hour seminars - seminars will include lectures and active learning; working in small groups, and presenting ideas to the larger group
Scheduled Teaching and Learning22 hour revision session
Guided independent study75Preparation for each seminar
Guided independent study40Time for essay preparation and revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation – in small groups 20 minutes2, 3, 5, 6, 8Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination603 hours1-7Generic feedback and summative grading
Coursework402000 words 1-7, 9Written feedback and summative grading


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-7August/September assessment period
CourseworkCoursework1-7, 9August/September assessment period

Re-assessment notes

wo assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the coursework you will be required to resubmit the coursework. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core reading:

Wider reading:

  • ‘Behavioural’ addictions: do they exist? (2001) Science, 294: 980 – 982.
  • Robbins T.W. et al. (2012) Neurocognitive endophenotypes of impulsivity and compulsivity: towards dimensional psychiatry. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16: 81-91.
  • Volkow N.D. and Li Ting-Kai (2004) Drug addiction: the neurobiology of behaviour gone awry. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5 (December): 963 – 970.
  • Volkow N.D. and Wise R.A. (2005) How can drug addiction help us understand obesity? Nature Neuroscience 8:555-560.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Abnormal psychology, clinical psychology, compulsive behaviour, addiction, mood disorders, neuroimaging

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY2202 Biological Psychology II or PSY2304 Biological Basis of Behaviour, PSY2205 Personality and Individual Differences or PSY2305 Personality, Individual Differences and Mental Health

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date