Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Impulsivity Disorders

  • Timothy RazzaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3208-1



Psychiatric diagnoses that include impulsivity or difficulties with behavioral and/or emotional inhibition as a primary symptom.


Impulsivity Disorders refer to the numerous psychiatric disorders that involve impulsivity as a primary aspect of the clinical presentation. Impulsivity may present as an inability to inhibit behavior or emotions, a lack of forethought or planning, and a failure to consider the consequences of one’s actions. Examples of impulsivity disorders include pyromania, ADHD, and binge-eating disorder.

Impulsivity Disorders

Impulsivity disorders refer to psychiatric disorders with a primary symptom of impulsivity or deficits in behavioral and/or emotional inhibition. Hollander et al. (2008) define impulsivity as “the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation that is potentially harmful to oneself or other” (p. 778). In summarizing the various definitions of impulsivity, Moeller et al. (2001), focused on the lack of thought, planning, attention, or judgement accompanying behavior. Whiteside and Lynam (2001) identified four personality factors related to impulsivity including urgency, lack of premeditation, lack of perseverance, and sensation seeking supporting the notion that “In addition to its importance in personality, impulsivity also plays a prominent role in the understanding and diagnosis of various forms of psychopathology” (p. 670).

The DSM-5 (2013) includes numerous disorders that involve impulsivity. The disorders outlined in the DSM-5 (2013) section Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders involve difficulties controlling behaviors and emotions and “are unique in that these problems are manifested in behaviors that violate the rights of others (e.g., aggression, destruction of property) and/or that bring the individual into significant conflict with societal norms or authority figures” (p. 461). Examples of disorders in this section include intermittent explosive disorder, pyromania, and kleptomania. Intermittent explosive disorder involves distinct episodes of impulsive aggressive outbursts that appear out of proportion to the antecedent event or stimulus and remit spontaneously (Saddock and Saddock 2007). The diagnosis of pyromania includes deliberately setting fires on more than one occasion that is not done for monetary gain, to conceal criminal activity, or as a result of hallucinations or delusional beliefs (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Kleptomania is described as an inability to inhibit the impulse to steal objects that the individual does not need (American Psychiatric Association 2013).

Impulsivity also serves as a prominent symptom in the presentation of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Impulsivity in ADHD can occur within the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional domains. Individual’s diagnosed with ADHD to experience impulsive errors due to failing to wait for complete instructions, a lack of understanding of what a situation requires, and failing to consider the consequences of actions prior to initiating behavior (Roberts et al. 2014). Trichotillomania, intentional hair pulling that causes visible hair loss, and compulsive skin picking that causes tissue damage have also been cited as impulse-control disorders (Grant 2008). Other conditions that involve impulsivity include Bulimia and Binge-eating disorder, substance-use disorders, addictions, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Paraphilias (Hollander et al. 2008).


Impulsivity involves a lack of forethought, judgment, and behavioral and emotional inhibition. Impulsivity is recognized as a prominent feature of various psychiatric conditions including kleptomania, ADHD, substance-use disorders, and addictions.



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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Valerie G. Starratt
    • 1
  1. 1.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA