Rejecting Impulsivity as a Psychological Construct: A Theoretical, Empirical, and Sociocultural Argument

Justin C. Strickland, Matthew Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We demonstrate through theoretical, empirical, and sociocultural evidence that the concept of impulsivity fails the basic requirements of a psychological construct and should be rejected as such. Impulsivity (or impulsiveness) currently holds a central place in psychological theory, research, and clinical practice and is considered a multifaceted concept. However, impulsivity falls short of the theoretical specifications for hypothetical constructs by having meaning that is not compatible with psychometric, neuroscience, and clinical data. Psychometric findings indicate that impulsive traits and behaviors (e.g., response inhibition, delay discounting) are largely uncorrelated and fail to load onto a single, superordinate latent variable. Modern neuroscience has also failed to identify a specific and central neurobehavioral mechanism underlying impulsive behaviors and instead has found separate neurochemical systems and loci that contribute to a variety of impulsivity types. Clinically, these different impulsivity types show diverging and distinct pathways and processes relating to behavioral and psychosocial health. The predictive validity and sensitivity of impulsivity measures to pharmacological, behavioral, and cognitive interventions also vary based on the impulsivity type evaluated and clinical condition examined. Conflation of distinct personality and behavioral mechanisms under a single umbrella of impulsivity ultimately increases the likelihood of misunderstanding at a sociocultural level and facilitates misled hypothesizing and artificial inconsistencies for clinical translation. We strongly recommend that, based on this comprehensive evidence, psychological scientists and neuroscientists reject the language of impulsivity in favor of a specific focus on the several well-defined and empirically supported factors that impulsivity is purported to cover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychological Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Hypothetical construct
  • Impulsigenic
  • Impulsivity
  • Personality
  • Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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