Whats impulsive mean

Impulsive Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

im·​pul·​sive im-ˈpəl-siv 



: arising from an impulse

an impulsive decision


: prone to act on impulse

an impulsive young man


: acting momentarily


: having the power of or actually driving or impelling

impulsively adverb

impulsiveness noun





  • besetting
  • compulsive
  • driven
  • obsessional
  • obsessive

See all Synonyms & Antonyms in Thesaurus 

Example Sentences

I couldn't make out exactly what had happened, though I could guess how it started—the two of them talking, kidding around when Mrs. Ramsey came down to the library basement to file some periodicals, an impulsive kiss in the stacks … —Tobias Wolff, Old School, 2003 There was an odd nobility, a knight-errant quality, about Alan—in his willingness to suffer for the sake of life itself, in his tendency to view himself under harsher light than he would turn on others, in his impulsive generosity. —Tracy Kidder, Home Town, 1999 So speaks Maude Bailey, the celibate feminist scholar heroine of A. S. Byatt's fifth novel, as, in an impulsive collusion with a male scholar she scarcely knows, she runs off to Brittany. —Joyce Carol Oates, Vogue, November 1990

She's impulsive and often does things that she later regrets. He needs to learn to control his impulsive behavior. She made an impulsive decision to quit her job. See More

Recent Examples on the Web For instance, public health researchers agree that suicide is typically an impulsive act, often aborted before completion — and that the majority of people who survive an initial suicide attempt never make a second try. —Russ Juskalian, Discover Magazine, 13 Aug. 2019 The second theme, Andrew, that jumped out to me is that Putin is impulsive. —CBS News, 7 Dec. 2022 Which gets us to thinking this: Maybe these fixtures do indeed cost three grand when a sucker, one who is highly impulsive and spends without much forethought, is willing to pay that much? —Curbed, 13 July 2022 Too-intense workouts can make athletes more impulsive, according to a study published today in Current Biology. —Leslie Nemo, Discover Magazine, 26 Sep. 2019 Displays of impulsive behavior were part of her history. —Molly Parker, ProPublica, 22 Dec. 2022 While knowing about Ye's bipolar diagnosis may help explain impulsive behavior or grandiose gestures, antisemitism is a reflection of toxic societal beliefs – one espoused by bigoted people without diagnosable mental illness. —Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY, 11 Oct. 2022 As for Zachariah Fairfax, whose Triad pants are now sold at Nordstrom and basically sold out, the decision wasn’t impulsive but entirely accidental. —Tara Gonzalez, Harper's BAZAAR, 13 Dec. 2022 But while Lucia might have a bigger plan in mind with Albie, Mia seems a bit more impulsive and reckless in her decision-making. —Ethan Shanfeld, Variety, 8 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'impulsive. ' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


see impulse entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler

The first known use of impulsive was in the 15th century

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“Impulsive.Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impulsive. Accessed 19 Jan. 2023.

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Kids Definition



im·​pul·​sive im-ˈpəl-siv 


: acting or tending to act on impulse


: resulting from a sudden impulse

impulsively adverb

impulsiveness noun

Medical Definition



im·​pul·​sive im-ˈpəl-siv 


: having the power of or actually driving or impelling


: actuated by or prone to act on impulse

impulsive behavior


: acting momentarily

brief impulsive auditory stimuli

impulsively adverb

impulsiveness noun




plural impulsivities

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Impulsive Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com

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[ im-puhl-siv ]

/ ɪmˈpʌl sɪv /

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See synonyms for: impulsive / impulsively / impulsiveness on Thesaurus.com

This shows grade level based on the word's complexity.


actuated or swayed by emotional or involuntary impulses: an impulsive child.

having the power or effect of impelling; characterized by impulsion: impulsive forces.

inciting to action: the impulsive effects of a revolutionary idea.

Mechanics. (of forces) acting momentarily; not continuous.


1 rash, quick, hasty.

See synonyms for impulsive on Thesaurus.com



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Origin of impulsive

First recorded in 1375–1425 for an earlier sense; 1545–55 for current senses; late Middle English impulsif, from Medieval Latin impulsīvus; see origin at impulse, -ive

synonym study for impulsive

1. See impetuous.


im·pul·sive·ly, adverbim·pul·siv·i·ty [im-puhl-siv-i-tee], /ɪmˌpʌlˈsɪv ɪ ti/, im·pul·sive·ness, nounnon·im·pul·sive, adjectivenon·im·pul·sive·ly, adverb

un·im·pul·sive, adjectiveun·im·pul·sive·ly, adverb


1. compulsive, impulsive 2. impetuous, impulsive (see synonym study at impetuous)

Words nearby impulsive

impuissant, impulse, impulse buying, impulse turbine, impulsion, impulsive, impulsivity, impundulu, impunity, impure, impurity

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Words related to impulsive

abrupt, hasty, impetuous, instinctive, offhand, passionate, spontaneous, violent, ad-lib, automatic, careless, devil-may-care, emotional, extemporaneous, flaky, headlong, intuitive, involuntary, mad, precipitate

How to use impulsive in a sentence

  • Sometimes my best work will be rather spontaneous or impulsive.

    Remote Work Is All Gen Z Knows. But Are They Satisfied?|Raisa Bruner|August 16, 2021|Time

  • What makes his decision seem impulsive and even dangerous is that Unity is still far short of becoming the kind of thoroughly tested and reliable vehicle that would be able to fly passengers on a regular schedule.

    Richard Branson's Big Space D*ck Contest with Bezos is Reckless—and Potentially Deadly|Clive Irving|July 2, 2021|The Daily Beast

  • In my highs, I was drinking compulsively and taking impulsive risks in the mountains as a coping strategy.

    We Need to Talk About Mental Health in the Mountains|Drew Petersen|June 30, 2021|Outside Online

  • Her team uses computer games like this to measure how cautious or impulsive people are.

    Search for ‘rewards’ is big driver in remodeling a teen’s brain|Silke Schmidt|April 22, 2021|Science News For Students

  • It tries to exert self-control by tamping down the limbic system’s impulsive urges.

    Teen depression linked to how the brain processes rewards|Alison Pearce Stevens|March 18, 2021|Science News For Students

  • So, did Opperud make the plan and then get the impulsive Lane to come with him at the last second?

    How To Plan A Jailbreak|Seth Ferranti|September 13, 2014|DAILY BEAST

  • But Hezbollah has more pressing strategic imperatives today, and Nasrallah is not known as an impulsive leader.

    Hezbollah Talks Big but Bows Out of the Gaza War|Jamie Dettmer|July 23, 2014|DAILY BEAST

  • Griffith is hardly alone amongst the lovelorn, impulsive, and unfortunately tattooed.

    Melanie, Leave Antonio On Your Arm: The Emotional Politics of Tattoos|Lizzie Crocker|June 21, 2014|DAILY BEAST

  • As someone who spent time with him in his 2008 campaign put it, he would have been an impulsive, perilous president.

    Obama’s All Eisenhower On Russia|Robert Shrum|March 10, 2014|DAILY BEAST

  • And while depression often keeps its victims from thinking clearly, the Internet encourages impulsive behavior.

    More Shocking Than Online Suicides Are the Crowds Who Clamor to Watch|Caitlin Dickson|December 10, 2013|DAILY BEAST

  • In his childlike, impulsive fashion he had not thought of the future when he adopted Jean.

    The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol|William J. Locke

  • Eloquent in speech, warm-hearted and impulsive, he found it difficult to resist a joke, even at the expense of his friend.

    Fifty Years of Railway Life in England, Scotland and Ireland|Joseph Tatlow

  • I made an impulsive forward movement, but Dr. Silence instantly dragged me back.

    Three More John Silence Stories|Algernon Blackwood

  • This habit is an outcome of our frank, impulsive character; but the Scotch would be slow in appreciating it.

    Friend Mac Donald|Max O'Rell

  • In their habits they resembled children, being sensitive and impulsive, fond of play, and very quick in their motions.

    Man And His Ancestor|Charles Morris

British Dictionary definitions for impulsive


/ (ɪmˈpʌlsɪv) /


characterized by actions based on sudden desires, whims, or inclinations rather than careful thoughtan impulsive man

based on emotional impulses or whims; spontaneousan impulsive kiss

forceful, inciting, or impelling

(of physical forces) acting for a short time; not continuous

(of a sound) brief, loud, and having a wide frequency range

Derived forms of impulsive

impulsively, adverbimpulsiveness, noun

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Impulsivity - causes, diagnosis and treatment

Impulsivity is a feature of behavior that is characterized by a tendency to perform actions without thinking, under the influence of emotions, external circumstances. Impulsive people are emotionally unrestrained, impatient, irritable. They often show irresponsibility, frivolity, touchiness. Diagnostics of impulsivity is carried out by the method of conversation, observation, psychological testing. Symptomatic assistance includes psychocorrection, medication, the formation of the skill of introspection, planning. nine0005

General characteristics

Impulsivity is manifested by the inability to restrain momentary impulses, the tendency to act without regard for the consequences, under the influence of the current situation and one's own emotions. Impulsive behavior is often accompanied by inattention, hyperactivity, and emotional excitability. People with this feature act on the first impulse, just as quickly begin to feel remorse when their activity leads to a negative result. Example: impulsively buying an attractive but useless item and then regretting wasting money. nine0005

The opposite quality is self-control – the ability to inhibit immediate desires, to think over the result of an action, to take into account other people's positions, and not just one's own interests. This is the main difference between decisiveness and impulsiveness. Both qualities are similar to a purposeful reaction, but decisiveness involves thinking about actions, analyzing possible results, and consciously choosing behavior.

Impulsiveness is often identified with irascibility, since this reaction is also characterized by speed, thoughtlessness, and lack of control. The difference between these qualities is that quick-tempered people are emotionally unrestrained, they can openly express irritability, anger, anger. But if they are not impulsive, then no action will follow. Another difference is that short temper is always associated with negative emotions, and impulsiveness can be fueled by joy, happiness, and a state of inspiration. nine0005

Causes of impulsivity

Scientists have identified the biological mechanisms of impulsivity. This quality is closely related to the activity of dopamine, a substance that transmits information in nerve cells. Impulsive behavior is accompanied by excessive production of dopamine in the midbrain, and, as a result, a change in the activity of the frontal lobes, responsible for programming and controlling activity. As a result, the process of analyzing the situation, predicting the consequences is reduced or completely “falls out”, executive functions are immediately activated. nine0005

The reasons for the biochemical changes described above are manifold. These can be age-related features of the nervous system, fixing certain behavioral reactions, temporary physiological dysfunctions and persistent pathological changes in the nervous system, mental activity. Factors that provoke impulsivity can be divided into two large groups: psychophysiological characteristics and mental illness.

Psychophysiological factors

Impulsivity appears in most people. As a rule, it is unstable, does not have serious negative consequences. Reckless actions are committed under the influence of strong emotional experiences, intense external stimuli, a state of confusion or fatigue. All these factors temporarily reduce the ability to self-control. Persistent, but not pathological impulsivity is observed at certain stages of a person's mental development, with certain types of character. As causes of mild to moderate impulsivity are considered:

  • Childhood . Impulsivity is manifested in children of preschool and primary school age. It is due to the insufficient formation of the behavior control function, that is, the incompleteness of the development of the frontal parts of the brain. In the future, there is the development of social roles, the adoption of rules of conduct, which requires restraining one's own motives, taking into account the interests of the people around.
  • Adolescence. During this period, puberty occurs, hormonal imbalance is reflected in the emotional state: adolescents become excitable, easily irritated, angry, despair. In parallel with physiological changes, an adolescent crisis develops, accompanied by a conflict between the needs of a teenager and the social situation that has developed around him (expectations of parents, teachers). Affective intemperance is the basis of impulsive actions. nine0028
  • Character trait . Sometimes impulsiveness is a character trait of a person. It is based on the mobility of the processes of higher nervous activity, which is characteristic of sanguine and choleric temperaments. Consolidation of impulsive traits occurs in the process of education and socialization. Such people are quick-tempered, do not have sufficient self-control, tend to commit aimless acts. Often they are guided by spontaneous desires, whims, underestimate the negative consequences of their actions. nine0028
  • Astenization . The depletion of the body's resources is manifested by a decrease in its tolerance to psychological discomfort - affective outbursts (crying, screaming), rash acts. Therefore, a possible cause of impulsive reactions is asthenia due to overwork, lack of sleep, health problems, long waits, a series of failures. Impulsivity acts as a way to discharge psycho-emotional stress, it occurs as a result of the weakening of the control centers in the brain. nine0028
  • Stimulus-rich environment . The environment, which provides many stimuli, contributes to the call and manifestation of uncontrollable impulses. An obvious example is a large store with a lot of goods, advertising design, musical accompaniment. Getting into such an environment, a person becomes prone to impulsive purchases, acquires things spontaneously.

Mental illnesses

Causes of persistent pathological impulsivity - mental disorders. Insufficient control of behavior, emotional instability, a decrease in critical abilities become the basis for committing actions that violate adaptation in society, hindering the process of learning and work. Impulsivity is a symptom of the following diseases:

  • ADHD. Hyperkinetic behavioral disorders are diagnosed at preschool age, characterized by insufficient perseverance when performing mental work, a tendency to switch to a new task after finishing the previous one. Activity is excessive, poorly regulated, manifested with recklessness, impulsiveness. Children do not feel distance in relationships with adults, they do not know how to follow the rules in games, therefore they are left without friends.
  • nine0025 Conduct disorders . Common causes of impulsivity in adolescents and children are behavioral disorders. Patients are characterized by dissocial, aggressive, provocative actions, violations of relationships with peers and family members, school failure. It is based on the lack of control and programming of activities, due to improper upbringing, the negative influence of the environment and, in part, biological mechanisms. Behavior is characterized by increased conflict, absenteeism, running away from home, committing offenses. nine0028
  • Mental retardation . Most patients with oligophrenia belong to the category of impulsive, insufficiently adapted. They experience irrational fears, are affectively unstable, and have reduced skills of volitional regulation. Their impulsiveness is combined with an infantile response style, an inability to solve problems on their own, and a passive expectation of help from adults. Social immaturity complicates the process of interpersonal interaction, integration into society. nine0028
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders . Autism and similar diseases are characterized by speech development disorders, communication difficulties, lack of emotional contact with others. Patients with autism perform stereotypical actions, with difficulty focusing attention, impulsive, restless. These traits are most fully manifested in subjectively disturbing, unpleasant situations - when approaching unfamiliar people, trying to establish bodily or verbal contact. nine0028
  • Epilepsy . According to studies, patients with temporal lobe epilepsy show a tendency to outbursts of aggressiveness, exceeding in severity the stressful situations that caused them. Impulsive reactions persist as a habitual form of response to everyday difficulties. In epileptic psychosis, aggressiveness comes to the fore. In general, patients are characterized by manifestations of motor hyperactivity, inattention, and rudeness.
  • Excitable psychopathy . The nature of this disorder is characterized by explosiveness, incontinence, conflict. Explosive psychopaths have a low level of self-control, prone to aggressiveness that occurs without a reason. In this case, aggression can be directed at others, at oneself. Impulsivity increases the risk of self-harm, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.
  • Dementia . Violations of self-control of behavior are most characteristic of frontal and frontotemporal types of nervous degeneration. A common variant is Pick's disease. Changes in the emotional and personal sphere are represented by the absence of criticism, passivity of behavior, spontaneousness, impulsiveness. Patients become rude, swear, behave inappropriately. nine0028


Impulsivity is determined during a comprehensive diagnosis. The examination is carried out by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, sometimes a neurologist. Pronounced impulsive traits are already detected during the conversation: patients are restless, emotionally unstable, easily distracted. They often do not single out their own impulsivity as a pointed or pathological trait, so the doctor receives more objective information from family members who are able to talk about the possible causes of the symptom, its severity, and the impact on family, professional and friendly relations (the degree of socialization). Diagnosis includes observation and psychological testing:

  • Surveillance with provocation . To identify impulsivity, experimental conditions are organized in which the psychologist creates potentially conflict situations or gives difficult tasks to solve, and observes the patient's behavior. With difficulties, emotional tension increases, rash non-purposeful actions are committed (tearing the form with the task, throwing a pencil).
  • Psychodiagnostic questionnaires . Determining the degree of impulsivity, its relationship with other character traits is carried out using complex personality questionnaires, such as MMPI, a 16-factor Cattell questionnaire. In the results, increased values ​​of impulsive behavior scales are often combined with high rates of emotional instability and excitability. Isolated impulsive qualities are diagnosed by special tests, for example, the method "Diagnostics of the potential of communicative impulsivity" by V. A. Losenkov. nine0028
  • Projective tests . In projective methods, personality traits are manifested that a person does not recognize, does not notice in himself or diligently hides from others, knowingly giving false answers in questionnaires. In such cases, drawing tests are used (a drawing of a person, a non-existent animal), situations interpretation tests (TAT, Rosenzweig test). Impulsiveness is seen in graphic characteristics, drawn details, explanation of situations as conflicting, tense. nine0028


Pathological impulsivity disrupts a person's social adaptation, is associated with the risk of committing administrative and criminal offenses, and therefore requires treatment and correction. The main therapeutic measures are determined by the disease that provoked the behavioral disorder. Symptomatic medical and psychological care is provided to patients on an outpatient basis, includes psychocorrection, drug therapy, recommendations for changing the regimen. nine0005

Psychological correction

Psychological correction of impulsivity is performed in the form of exercises and group games that train concentration, attention span, self-control skills, and the ability to take responsibility for one's actions. Individual psychological counseling is aimed at mastering the ability to inhibit immediate impulses to action - to take a break and think, predict the result. For example, the "Forbidden Symbol" technique is used. Joint games and trainings require curbing momentary desires, taking into account the rules of the game, the interests of other participants. nine0005

Drug therapy

If a patient with impulsiveness poses a threat to others or to himself, medications are selected to reduce psychomotor agitation. With a pronounced disorder, normotimics, anticonvulsants are prescribed. In addition, in recent years, serotonergic antidepressants have been increasingly used, which, in addition to their main effect, reduce obsessive-compulsive symptoms, prevent outbreaks of aggression, and reduce craving for alcohol. At the beginning of therapy, antidepressants are combined with small doses of tranquilizers. nine0005

Change of lifestyle

An effective method of self-correction of impulsiveness is planning the day and following the regimen. Keeping planners, diaries, personal diaries allows you to objectively assess the existing shortcomings and weaknesses of the individual, and then compensate for them. Example: if a person does not have time to prepare a full breakfast every morning, impulsively snacks on harmful foods, then the correction will be to change the time of awakening and getting out of bed. The ability to plan things, avoid unnecessary temptations, competently alternate between rest and work allows you to avoid impulsive actions. nine0005

Impulsivity: what are impulsive people?

Impulsivity is a character trait common to many people. When a person is impulsive, he usually behaves like this without even thinking about its consequences. They do not think about what their actions can produce for themselves and for others. They don't think if they can cause discomfort, hurt or harm anyone. They act according to their own impulses and emotions without analyzing anything else ... they allow themselves to be carried away by what they feel, no matter the reason. nine0005

This impulsive behavior has been shown to have genetic and hereditary components. In fact, there are disorders whose characteristics include impulsivity, such as hyperactivity or bipolar disorder. People cannot put off their desires and get carried away by what they feel in the moment.


  • 1 Impulsive behavior
  • 2 Causes
  • 3 Symptoms
  • 4 Diagnosis
  • 5 How to be less impulsive
    • 5.1 Make a deep breath
    • 5.2, wait before acting
    • 5.3 Follow the impulsive behavior
    • 5.4 Ask a friend or family member to help you
    • 5. 5 Visit therapist

    Impulsive behavior Impulsive. to do something. Impulsivity can be defined as a special way of perceiving the world in which there is a predisposition to act uncontrollably and quickly when confronted with an event, internal or external stimulus. nine0119 There is a flaw in a person's analytical judgment, which means that he does not think about the consequences of his actions.

    Therefore, impulsive behavior is a tendency to act without thinking about the consequences of one's actions, and these actions usually occur in response to some event that caused an emotional reaction in a person.


    Neuroscience has opened the way, impulse and idea become behavior in the brain and, finally, uncontrollable coercion. The photographs show that some people have difficulties. nine0119 Postpone the increase in remuneration for a longer period of time.

    Impulsive behavior is strongly associated with neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, which is associated with learning and reinforcement. There may be physiological aspects that may explain impulsive and repetitive behavior. There are receptor disturbances in the frontal lobe, especially in the prefrontal cortex, where executive functions are responsible for decision making and judgment.

    This means that the brain core, located in the part of the brain that makes decisions, makes a detour and looks for the fastest way to get a reward without much thought and effort. Impulsive behavior can be explained by less active dopamine receptors in the middle region of the brain, which is responsible for making logical decisions. These receptors may also explain the propensity for impulsive people to become depressed.

    As with drug and gambling addictions, impulsive behavior results in action regret that is not enough to stop the behavior earlier. nine0005


    There are some components that distinguish impulsive behavior from other behavior. Symptoms that may be associated with impulse are:

    • Failure to plan or prepare: Driven by our impulses, we cannot prepare for expected logical consequences; on the contrary, surprise becomes the main characteristic where "anything can happen. "
    • Low self control. nine0120 No restrictions or self-control.
    • Low persistence. Emotions dictate the next step. It becomes very difficult to overcome delay.
    • Look for new experiences. Under the influence of strong positive or negative emotions, our cognitive abilities to plan and evaluate various alternatives are distorted, which leads to the fact that we later regret spontaneous decisions.

    Each impulse is individual and has different consequences: from eating an extra piece of cake when we shouldn't, to stealing, breaking things, and even self-mutilation. In the abyss of impulsive behavior, even our lives, or the lives of those we love, can be at risk. Emotional state is key in this behavior; During this process, the brain releases emotional states that color the perception of reality, making it difficult for a person not to feel the urge to act. Therefore, the rational thought process is disturbed a person cannot assess their actions and consequences.


    Anyone can fall prey to impulsive behavior at any time in life...Although once it becomes a habit it can become a very serious problem for a person who lacks the self-control needed to function properly. If you think that impulsive behavior is controlling your life, you will need to contact a specialist to help you. about how to lead your life and that being impulsive doesn't destroy you little by little. nine0120

    The specialist uses special tools, questionnaires and interviews to determine the risk of impulsive behavior and establish therapeutic measures. There are also specialized tests that can help determine how impulsive you are and train your mind to suppress this impulsive behavior.

    How to be less impulsive

    Being less impulsive is in your hands, because it is your mind that makes you more or less impulsive. If you want to stop this behavior, follow these tips and you will see your life begin to improve. nine0005

    Take a deep breath

    If you think you are going to act impulsively, stop for a moment and take 10 deep breaths. This will help your body get the oxygen it needs to reduce anxiety levels.

    Wait before acting

    Count to 50 while you breathe before doing what is on your mind, that is, what your mind tells you to do. This time, you will calm down and reduce your impulsive behavior. nine0005

    Watch for impulsive behavior

    Keep a calendar of good and bad days to help you focus on the good days when you weren't into impulsive behavior. In this way you will realize that you are able to maintain self-control to a greater extent than you expect.

    Ask a friend or family member to help you

    Family and friends can help you monitor this behavior and sometimes even comfort you if needed. Trust someone to let you know when things get out of hand so they can point the way.

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