What Is Impulsivity In Behavioral Science?

What is Impulsivity?

Impulsivity is a key concept in behavioral science that refers to a tendency to act on a whim, without consideration of consequences or without forethought. It is characterized by quick, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions to themselves or others.


Impulsivity is defined as a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions. It’s associated with a range of behaviors, such as difficulty waiting for a reward (delay discounting), risk-taking, and a lack of planning.

Key Aspects

  • Lack of Forethought

    Impulsivity involves actions that are performed without adequate thought or consideration of consequences. This lack of forethought can lead to negative outcomes, as the immediate response may not be the most appropriate or beneficial.

  • Rapid Response to Stimuli

    Impulsive behavior often involves a rapid response to internal or external stimuli. This could be an emotional response to an internal feeling, or a reaction to an external event or situation.

  • Difficulty with Delayed Gratification

    People with high impulsivity often have difficulty with delayed gratification, or the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

Role in Behavioral Science

In behavioral science, impulsivity is often studied in relation to decision-making, self-control, and risk-taking behavior. It is considered a key aspect of various psychological disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance use disorders, and certain personality disorders.

Implications for Behavior Change

Understanding impulsivity can be valuable in designing interventions for behavior change. Strategies that enhance self-control, promote thoughtful decision-making, or provide tools for managing responses to stimuli can be used to reduce impulsive behaviors. Additionally, interventions can focus on improving skills such as delay of gratification, which can help individuals make better decisions that lead to long-term benefits.

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