Campbell and Werry (1986) define impulsivity as "erratic and poorly controlled behavior" (p. 120). Teachers who refer to a student as being impulsive usually conjure up images of students who rarely stop to think before they act, who attempt tasks before they fully understand the directions, who often demonstrate remorse when their actions have led to errors or mishaps, who call out frequently in class (usually with the wrong answer), and who have difficulty organizing their materials.
Kauffman (1989) notes that impulsive behavior is normal in young students, but that as students grow older, most learn alternative responses. Olson and colleagues (Olson, Bates, & Bayles, 1990) point out that 2-year-old students will begin to "inhibit prohibited actions owing to remembered information" (p. 318), but state that "self-regulation does not develop until the 3rd or 4th year of life" (p. 318).
Students who manifest impulsive behavior often get into trouble in social situations such as games and play activities (Melloy, 1990). Because they demonstrate poor impulse control, these students are apt to take their turn before its time, or to respond incorrectly to game stimuli (e.g., questions). Some students who have poor impulse control may respond to teasing, for example, by hitting the person who teases them, They are often sorry for their actions and can discuss what they should have done had they taken time to think about their action. Unfortunately, impulsivity places students at higher risk for smoking (Kollins, McClernon, & Fuemmeler, 2005), illegal drug use (Semple, Zians, Grant, & Patterson, 2005), eating disorders (Peake, Limbert, & Whitehead, 2005), and suicide (Swann, Dougherty, Pazzaglia, Pham, Steinberg, & Moeller, 2005).
D'Acremont and Van der Linden (2005) identify four dimensions of impulsivity:
- Urgency: Student is in a hurry.
- Lack of premeditation: Student acts before he thinks or plans.
- Lack of perseverance: Student gives up on a task.
- Sensation seeking: Student seeking fun without thinking of consequences.
They also found that among impulsive children, boys had higher scores for sensation seeking and girls for urgency. Assessment of impulsivity usually involves the use of behavioral checklists, behavior ratings, mazes, match-to-sample tasks, and behavioral observations (Olson et al., 1990; Shafrir & Pascual-Leone, 1990; Vitiello, Stoft Atkins, & Mahoney, 1990).
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