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The Four Types of Impulsivity | Why is it so destructive?

This video answers the question: What is impulsivity? Impulsivity is an interesting construct – it’s associated with a number of diagnostic classifications (mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). Some of these mental disorders have impulsivity directly as a symptom and for others impulsivity is really just more of an associated characteristic. We see that with clinical and non-clinical populations – so individuals who have mental disorders and are being treated and individuals who don’t – impulsivity has a negative impact on social adjustment, work, school success as well as physical and mental health. We know that impulsivity increases the risk of engaging a lot of behaviors that are considered problematic in our society: gambling, risky sex, substance use, suicidal behavior, binge eating, aggression, and violence.

There is single definition for impulsivity, but rather we see a number of terms associated with impulsivity like lack of forethought, risk-taking, inattention, lack of control, failing to plan, excitement seeking, novelty seeking, and quick decision-making.

One popular way of understanding impulsivity is the four-factor model called the UPPS model. This acronym stands for urgency, lack of premeditation, lack of perseverance, and sensation-seeking.

Berg, J. M., Latzman, R. D., Bliwise, N. G., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2015). Parsing the heterogeneity of impulsivity: A meta-analytic review of the behavioral implications of the UPPS for psychopathology. Psychological Assessment, 27(4), 1129–1146.

Gagnon, J., Daelman, S., McDuff, P., & Kocka, A. (2013). UPPS dimensions of impulsivity: Relationships with cognitive distortions and childhood maltreatment. Journal of Individual Differences, 34(1), 48–55.

Miller, D. J., Derefinko, K. J., Lynam, D. R., Milich, R., & Fillmore, M. T. (2010). Impulsivity and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: Subtype Classification Using the UPPS Impulsive Behavior Scale. Journal of Psychopathology & Behavioral Assessment, 32(3), 323–332.

Few, L. R., Lynam, D. R., & Miller, J. D. (2015). Impulsivity-related traits and their relation to DSM–5 section II and III personality disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 6(3), 261–266.

Lootens, C. M., Robertson, C. D., Mitchell, J. T., Kimbrel, N. A., Hundt, N. E., & Nelson-Gray, R. O. (2017). Factors of impulsivity and Cluster B personality dimensions. Journal of Individual Differences, 38(4), 203–210.



  • pocoeagle2

    Very interesting video Dr. Grande. Thank you! Isn't it that neurological 'problems' with the prefrontal cortex and it's connected areas, such as the basal ganglia, can also play an important role in developing 'impulse control deficits' in a condition like ADHD? Or is this question more related with neuroscience instead of psychology?

  • Tony Filanowski

    Another great video. Could you speak about PTSD and impulsivity and treatment specifically for impulsivity? I've seen a cycle of shame and impulsivity with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In my practice, I've seen patients benefit from group work and mindfulness training. What are your recommendations for working with this population?

  • Rachel Bartlett

    Am I missing something here? I don't understand how impulsivity is presented as so complex. It's very easy to predict who will be displaying what kind of impulsive behavior if you look into MBTI. An INTJ will suffer from different impulsivity problems than an ESTP, for instance.

  • Chris Healey

    Dr. Grande, do you believe there is any sort of relationship between ASPD and object permanence? Have you seen this in your clinical practice?

    I was diagnosed with ASPD a few months ago, and wonder if this idea of object permanence could explain some of my behaviors.

  • لمى الشريف

    Thank you Dr!
    I find impulsivity one of the hardest things to deal with.
    How to turn off the fight and flight response!
    Consistent practice makes perfect.
    It's amazing how something as simple as deep breathing for a few minutes can help one calm down.

  • curvyquill

    Previously I've read a bit about the temperament theory. There it said the good sides of impulsivity can be how you're able to think about many tasks and switch from one mindset to another. Like at a supermarket if you went to buy one item, you end up planning meals for the whole week and buying that food too. Or am I remembering the wrong trait? Anyway how I remember this, someone without impulsivity would just stick on the task, which was to buy a certain item and nothing more.

    Do you think there would be such benefits to impulsivity? I suppose that would be impulsivity on moderate levels.

    BTW I did a questionnaire by Dr. Elaine Aron to determine whether a highly sensitive person has also a high sensation seeking trait. One question always amuses me: "would you try out drugs, if they were safe?" And I was like sure, I deffinitely would give them a try (I'm curious about the effects). But as they are dangerous on so many levels, I'll just stay away. Never even tried out smoking cigarettes, though my friends did. Alcohol is different, because the books I read (Alexandre Dumas) made drinking wine seem like a must. But I've been careful to never drink way too much or too often.

  • toXic viRus01

    I've realized over the past few to several months that for me personally and few others around me that impulsiveness is very self destructive to a degree and I myself have been attempting to manage it and actually think weather or not I actually either need to do that action (ex. Other day after work really wanted McDonald's seems trivial but I know that if I act upon my sudden urge for McDonald's that it will to an extent make me more impulse, so long story short I probably passed by 3 or 4 McDonald's each still thinking I wanted it but not acting on it ) little moments like this I believe are what for me personally lead to bigger and more self destructive impulsive urges . Also I'm not sure exactly how much of that came out how I wanted it to but I can elaborate more if needed.

  • kerry Irving

    I have allot of times where I can't act of my impulse though to go something ( positive) because maybe just a second later I Change my mind & then again & again. What can I do about this? Also when I was in a relationship I would really want to see that person & before they got here I'd change my mind about it back & forth

  • SK

    Thank you, Dr. Grande! Impulsivity in general seems to be a less than optimal response to a condition of a significant mental load due to uncertainty. I am just speculating here, but I wonder if one way of reducing maladaptive impulsivity might be something like this:
    1. Acknowledge that (a hypothetical) you are in a condition of uncertainty, in which it is normal to be tempted to reduce mental load by acting out;
    2. Realize – and say that to yourself, or write that statement down – that there are in fact several possible options with which to respond to most uncertain situations;
    3. List some of the reasonable possible options that could be used to respond to the uncertainty and imagine what choosing each option would entail.
    It seems to me that simply going through this process might reduce the perceived uncertainty (and it would naturally slow things down while giving the person a specific simple task), to the extent that it would not even be that urgent to choose one of the options right away, which would thus counteract impulsive tendencies. This is just a common-sense idea, but I may be approaching a complicated problem with a cookie-cutter solution.

  • L. Jay

    Impulsivity is a 'loose cannon' Its unpredictability has advantages & disadvantages. It can help, it can hurt. It can save lives & take lives. It's 'Hyper-Random' behaviour!! I've watched this video a number of times!! Superb content Dr. Grande. Thanx much!! 😊

  • HB Wilder

    Thanks for the clarification! Quick question: I feel as though my impulsivity is a result of an abnormal childhood, I was pushed into academics and didn't really have a proper "childhood" – now that I'm away from my parents and school, I take risks and rush for results to "make up for lost time" – do you think this applies to people that have been released from confinement or jail in a larger way? Urgency to make up for lost opportunities or making up for lost experiences? Thanks!

  • Wendy Mcreynollds

    I think it is important to consider intrinsic and extrinsic factors which increase or contain impulsivity. I wonder what research says about the inter-relationship between influencing factors across time and in response to interventions. What an important topic!

  • Irene

    I experience a bizarre form of impulsitivy or perhaps irrationality as I enter the menopause. It is as if a form of temporary madness descends and it is too real. Most of the time I am fine, then one or two days a month it feels like I have lost the plot entirely, I run and hide until it twigs that's what is happening. I really feel like I'm falling off a cliff. Fortunately Mr Right sees it more clearly and knows how to handle it. I know this isn't a mental illness bit I feel like it manifests that way, and gives me some insight as to real MH disorders.

  • linzer p

    This is the kind of mental health channel that we all should be watching! I struggle with impulsivity… this was informational and left me feeling like I gained knowledge about myself without feeling a negative way towards myself.

  • Kasandra

    REALLY GREAT video Dr.Grande, I still question if I have Bipolar except I don't have manic phases or they're really crap if I do.. I did something impulsive last year and was depressed at the time (and angry).. I didn't have anyone at home to solve what was going on in my head let alone how to deal with what was going on around me. Months after I came back ofc, not much has changed… tried to find solace and clarity with a psychologist through government funded mental health plan..I've no doubt she meant well but she focused too much on insisting I meditate and I understand her reasoning and ofc I should've tried more than I did but I strongly believe she doesn't understand how my brain works at all.. I verbalized to her that it's very difficult for me, maybe she thought I was trying to be difficult but what I wanted was for her to help me to get clarity right then and there and she didn't give me much.. Sometimes leaving me to talk too much when I'm in a certain state, can end up going around in circles or forgetting the agenda of why I'm there.. It's like she pulls this wool over my eyes and then after a few days at most I'm back to where I was before I started seeing her and I started postponing appointments with her because I wanted to make sure I'd meditated and enough before I saw her which I rarely did and ofc told her I didn't… The meditation had a lot of requirements like having to sit up, with your butt off the floor on a pillow or something etc which sounds easy but for me was a big ask because I was trying to form a habit according to how I've learned… To make it stick you start small and even better, link it in with another activity you already do if you can but for me this particular meditation doesn't allow me to start small.. On "To do" lists (love my lists)..I'll even write things I've already done sometimes as a form of motivation.

  • Kasandra

    How's best to make an appointment effective to any type of professional, most especially regarding chronic illnesses GPs aren't familiar with? My GP told me my illness was Panic Disorder despite having just verbalized to her that I've had a panic attack x2 maybe x3 times at most in my life and it's extremely different from simply having trouble breathing randomly.. (which I now have an answer to).. Also are doctors 'allowed' or somehow discouraged from saying "I don't know"? Because it would've helped me aeons more for her to just admit that in the beginning.

  • Jerry Marshall

    Enjoy your vids Doc,if the impulse is not acted on in a short period of time is it still related to impulsivity or called something else.Say had an impulse to buy a new car out of the blue,but took 4 days to find the one u wanted.

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