The word impulsive has gotten a bad rap; it’s often used to describe a lack of self-regulation or control. There are times, however, when impulsiveness can lead to genius breakthroughs and unparalleled creativity. Like most human behaviors, the degree of impulsivity varies according to individual differences, but most people do behave impulsively at times. Impulsive behavior in children is defined as action without forethought or planning, whereas impulsive behavior in adults can include behaviors associated with non-conformity and experimentation.
Research has shown that multiple areas of the brain are involved in impulsive behavior. We wanted to find out which personality traits play a role in impulsivity, and whether or not impulsive behavior is more common in specific personality types. To that end, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the following statement: “You are an impulsive person.”
Other than the traits belonging to the Nature aspect (we saw no significant difference between Thinking and Feeling types), each of the core personality traits has a significant influence on a person’s impulsivity: Mind (64% of Extraverts agreed, vs. 51% of Introverts), Energy (Intuitive 69% vs. Observant 42%), and Tactics (Prospecting 71% vs. Judging 43%). Among the Identity aspects, 64% of Turbulent respondents agreed with the statement, compared with only 48% of Assertive respondents.
By looking at the Role groups, we can see how different combinations of core traits influence our tendency to be impulsive (or not).
Analysts and Diplomats (69% and 68% agreeing)
Analysts and Diplomats share the Intuitive trait, which has a fairly strong influence on impulsivity. It gives both of these groups a creative advantage in planning and strategizing; their open-minded approach focuses on possibility, rather than probability. The Thinking and Feeling traits that differentiate the two groups have a minimal effect here, which is evident by the groups’ nearly identical scores.
The personality types that make up these Roles are highly confident in their “gut feelings” or their ability to feel their way through problems and situations. Analysts are likely to be creatively impulsive, which is effective when they are highly educated or knowledgeable about the subject at hand, but it can lead to faulty conclusions when they are outside their area of expertise. Diplomat personalities are likely to be emotionally impulsive, which can lead to heroic acts of altruism when motivated by positive feelings like compassion and empathy. Emotional impulsivity can lead to regretful actions, however, when driven by negative emotions like anger or jealousy.
Looking closely, we can see a wide variance in scores along the Tactics spectrum. Analysts and Diplomats with the Prospecting trait had significantly higher agreement scores than those with the Judging trait: Logicians (INTP) (71%) and Mediators (INFP) (70%) were much more likely to agree that they are impulsive people, while their Judging counterparts, Architects (INTJ) (47%) and Advocates (INFJ) (48%) had a much lower rate of agreement. To better understand the influence of Prospecting vs. Judging, let’s look at the Observant personality types – Explorers and Sentinels.
We expected this Role group to have a higher rate of agreement than they did; slightly more than half (58%) of Explorers agreed that they are impulsive. The moderating effect of the Observant trait offers part of the explanation for this lower-than-anticipated score. As Observant personality types, Explorers tend to focus on practical factors instead of abstract ones when assessing a problem or situation. They are less interested in what might or could have happened and why or why not; their attention is focused on what is happening in the present. Their pragmatism comes from their Observant trait, so where does their impulsivity come from?
The spontaneity, curiosity, and thrill-seeking tendencies that the Explorers are known for is largely due to their Prospecting trait. The Prospecting trait, which gives them their ability to spot opportunities, can also influence Explorers to make impulsive decisions. Goal-driven personality types, like Entrepreneurs (ESTP) (69%) can be impulsive decision-makers, often choosing the immediate benefit despite the risk of negative long-term consequences. Explorers can also be competitively impulsive, like Adventurers (ISFP) (50%), whose competitive nature motivates them toward risky activities like gambling and extreme sports.
The Observant-Judging trait pairing of Sentinel personalities keeps their impulsivity in check; only about one-third of Sentinels (32%) agreed with the statement. Like Explorers, this group focuses on the present, on facts, and on probability rather than possibility. Unlike Explorers, however, Sentinels’ other core trait is Judging, which influences them toward decisive action and an appreciation of rules and hierarchy as sources of certainty and security. This group also values conformity and pro-social behavior, which leads them to be very deliberate and circumspect in their behavior.
The Mind (Introversion vs. Extraversion) and Identity (Turbulent vs. Assertive) aspects each have strong influences on impulsivity, so there is significant variance among the Strategies.
Social Engagement (74% agreeing)
Social Engagers (who are Turbulent Extraverts) are social and outgoing, but they are also anxious to be accepted and esteemed by their peers. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Social Engagers agreed that they are impulsive people. Personalities with the Social Engagement Strategy, like Turbulent Debaters (ENTP-T) (88%), can easily become caught up in the excitement of the crowd when debating. They may often play the devil’s advocate, impulsively provoking the opposing side of an argument, even when they are defending a position they don’t believe in. On some occasions, the impulsivity that comes from peer pressure can be a good thing, such as with trust-building exercises in team sports and the workplace; participating in daring or silly events can be a good way to “break the ice” with new recruits or employees.
Constant Improvement and People Mastery (57% and 55%)
The Introverted trait of Constant Improvers moderates the impulsive influence of the Turbulent trait; only 57% of Constant Improvers identified as impulsive. As Introverts, these personality types spend the majority of their time doing solitary activities, which are less likely to be impulsive than group endeavors. Turbulent Introverts, however, are prone to anxiety and perfectionism, which can lead them to make impulsive decisions or engage in impetuous behaviors. Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T) (76%), though normally cool and detached, can sometimes react impulsively to criticism, either verbally (by threatening to quit) or by reacting in an extreme manner (actually quitting).
The impulsiveness usually associated with Extraversion is tempered by the Assertive trait in those with the People Mastery Strategy (with 55% agreeing). As a group, People Masters are comfortable in social situations, but they don’t feel a need to impress others. Assertive Executives (ESTJ-A) (34%) represent this group well: these personalities are social enough to foster cooperation, but they hold traditional values like conformity and order in high regard, and they consciously try to be role models in their social groups. Impulsivity would be detrimental to an Assertive Executive’s image as a “model citizen” and would go against their own sense of responsibility.
Confident Individualism (37%)
Possessing Introverted and Assertive traits, both of which have a negative correlation with impulsivity, only 37% of Confident Individualists agreed with the statement. These personality types are very deliberate in their actions and self-assured in their decisions, relying on their own skills and values to guide their behavior, rather than basing their actions on the opinions of others. Being resilient to stress helps keep Confident Individualists from making brash decisions and reacting impulsively. Assertive Defenders (ISFJ-A) (22%) had the lowest score of all types. These personalities are very meticulous, analytical, and patient, which protects them from making impulsive decisions or acting without much forethought.
Everyone acts impulsively at one point or another, especially when caught up in the excitement of a group or defending something they are passionate about. Impulsivity can be beneficial, as it can push people to follow their vision (like Analysts and Diplomats) or take a risk to achieve a goal (like Explorers). When taken to extremes, however, it can lead to poor outcomes, like gambling or other high-risk behaviors. Perhaps impulsiveness does not deserve its bad reputation – rather, the situational context, the individual’s personality traits, and their motivation determine the risks and benefits of acting on impulse.
When was the last time you acted on an impulse? Were you pleased with the result? Let us know in the Comments section!