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Impulsivity (or impulsiveness) is a type of human behavior characterized by the inclination of an individual to act on impulse rather than thought.[1] Although part of the normal behavior, impulsivity also plays a role in many mental illnesses.

As a personality trait, impulsivity is part of normal behavior as it contributes to adaptive functioning. However, psychological research has questioned impulsivity as a unitary psychological construct[2]. Some authors have proposed a 3-factor model according to which impulsivity can be decomposed as a combination of attentional ("getting easily bored"), motor ("going into action") and cognitive ("inability to plan") factors. Recent theories[3] have further decomposed impulsivity into 4 dimensions which partially map onto the five-factor model of personality:

Increased impulsiveness is at the center of impulse control disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. It may be linked to other psychopathological conditions like addiction, ADHD, bulimia, and borderline personality.

Recent evidence from neurobiological research seems to support these psychological theories as it has been shown that these different aspects of impulsivity can be independently manipulated by specific drugs.


  1. ^ Corsini, Raymond Joseph, 1999, The Dictionary of Psychology, Psychology Press, ISBN 158391028X, p. 476.
  2. ^ Varieties of impulsivity, J. L. Evenden, Psychopharmacology, 1999, Volume 146, Number 4.
  3. ^ Whiteside SP, Lynam DR. The Five Factor Model and impulsivity: Using a structural model of personality to understand impulsivity. Pers Indiv Differ 2001; 30: 669-89.


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