Another look at impulsivity: a meta-analytic review comparing specific dispositions to rash action in their relationship to bulimic symptoms

Clin Psychol Rev. 2008 Dec;28(8):1413-25. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.09.001. Epub 2008 Sep 7.


Recent advances in personality theory indicate that there are distinct constructs that dispose individuals to rash action and risky behavior, as opposed to one broad trait of impulsivity. Two are emotion based, two represent deficits in conscientiousness, and one is sensation seeking. Previous studies of impulsivity and its relationship to bulimia nervosa have yielded mixed findings. The authors applied this advance in personality theory to the study of bulimia nervosa (BN) to test the hypothesis that the emotion-based disposition of negative urgency (the tendency to act rashly when distressed) relates most strongly to BN symptoms. A meta-analysis of 50 articles indicated the following. Negative urgency had by far the largest effect size (weighted r=.38), followed by sensation seeking (weighted r=.16); lack of planning (weighted r=.16) and lack of persistence (weighted r=.08). Methodological moderators of the effect of distinct traits on BN symptoms were the use of scales that precisely measured one construct as opposed to general impulsivity scales that measured several constructs, clinical vs. non-clinical samples, and whether or not the personality scale was translated from its original language or not. Negative urgency appears especially important for BN; more broadly, researchers should consider the role of emotion-based dispositions to rash acts in their risk theories.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / psychology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / diagnosis
  • Bulimia Nervosa / psychology
  • Character*
  • Culture
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / diagnosis
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Internal-External Control
  • Personality Inventory
  • Risk Factors