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Bipolar Disorder: How do you measure impulsivity?

Bipolar Disorder: How do you measure impulsivity?Being impulsive is a key characteristic of bipolar disorder. It’s the hallmark of a manic episode. It’s described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as “excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences.” In extreme cases, it’s kind of like the impulse buy of a Snickers at the register except that in a manic episode the Snickers is now a car. There is little or no forethought put into actions. There is no thinking before speaking or planning before acting. It can ruin relationships, lead to bankruptcy, disease, injury, addiction and suicide.

Because it is a crucial part of bipolar disorder, it requires a lot of research. A 30-question survey called the “Barratt Impulsiveness Scale” was developed in the mid-1990’s (and is still used) to help researchers better understand the characteristics of how impulsivity relates to mania and mixed-state episodes.

Here are the statements presented on the survey. You can find a printable version here. Please keep in mind the results of this survey do not constitute a diagnosis of any kind.

Rate your answer from 1-4.
1: Rarely/Never
2: Occasionally
3: Often
4: Almost always/always


1   I plan tasks carefully.

2   I do things without thinking.

3   I make up my mind quickly.

4   I am happy-go-lucky.

5   I don’t “pay attention.”

6   I have “racing” thoughts.

7   I plan trips well ahead of time.

8   I am self-controlled.

9   I concentrate easily.

10 I save regularly.

11 I “squirm” at plays or lectures.

12 I am a careful thinker.

13 I plan for job security.

14 I say things without thinking.

15 I like to think about complex problems.

16 I change jobs.

17 I act “on impulse.”

18 I get easily bored when solving thought problems.

19 I act on the spur of the moment.

20 I am a steady thinker.

21 I change residences.

22 I buy things on impulse.

23 I can only think about one thing at a time.

24 I change hobbies.

25 I spend or charge more than I earn.

26 I often have extraneous thoughts when thinking.

27 I am more interested in the present than the future.

28 I am restless at the theater or lectures.

29 I like puzzles.

30 I am future oriented.

When tallying up the score, results are divided into three overall characteristics: attentional, motor and non-planning. Those categories are then further divided.

Attentional becomes:
Attention: questions 5, 9*, 11, 20*, 28
Cognitive instability: 6, 24, 26

Motor becomes:
Motor: 2, 3, 4, 17, 19, 22, 25
Perseverance: 16, 21, 23, 30*

Self-control: 1*, 7*, 8*, 12*, 13*, 14
Cognitive complexity: 10*, 15*, 18, 27, 29*

*These are questions that are meant to throw you off so you don’t simply go down the list answering “always.” They are “reverse” scored, meaning if you answered with 4 you would only be given 1 point. 1 would get 4 and so on.

It’s presumed that the higher the score, the higher the likelihood for impulsivity.


Fun fact: Impulsivity may be one reason bipolar disorder patients don’t take our meds. Read more about it here.



You can find me on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff

Photo credit: spinster cardigan

Bipolar Disorder: How do you measure impulsivity?

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2016). Bipolar Disorder: How do you measure impulsivity?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2018, from


Last updated: 18 Jan 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Jan 2016
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