Varieties of impulsivity

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1999 Oct;146(4):348-61. doi: 10.1007/pl00005481.


The concept of impulsivity covers a wide range of "actions that are poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky, or inappropriate to the situation and that often result in undesirable outcomes". As such it plays an important role in normal behaviour, as well as, in a pathological form, in many kinds of mental illness such as mania, personality disorders, substance abuse disorders and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Although evidence from psychological studies of human personality suggests that impulsivity may be made up of several independent factors, this has not made a major impact on biological studies of impulsivity. This may be because there is little unanimity as to which these factors are. The present review summarises evidence for varieties of impulsivity from several different areas of research: human psychology, psychiatry and animal behaviour. Recently, a series of psychopharmacological studies has been carried out by the present author and colleagues using methods proposed to measure selectively different aspects of impulsivity. The results of these studies suggest that several neurochemical mechanisms can influence impulsivity, and that impulsive behaviour has no unique neurobiological basis. Consideration of impulsivity as the result of several different, independent factors which interact to modulate behaviour may provide better insight into the pathology than current hypotheses based on serotonergic underactivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / diagnosis*
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug therapy
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Serotonin Agents / therapeutic use


  • Serotonin Agents