Three Factor Impulsivity Index

Last revised 06/24/2024

Impulsivity is an interesting aspect of human behavior. It is well known that impulsivity is related to many kinds of psychopathology, and the idea is beginning to be advanced that some facets of impulsivity are fundamental to most types of psychopathology (e.g., Carver, Johnson, & Timpano, 2017). For the last several years, my colleagues and I have been exploring this possibility. The work started with the fact that impulsivity is a very broad concept, with many different facets.
In 2011, we published a factor analysis of a set of measures (some preexisting, some created for that study) bearing on impulsiveness versus self-control (Carver, Johnson, Joormann, Kim, & Nam, 2011). Given the breadth of the impulsivity construct, the number of measures that might be included is very large. Our choices were dictated by several considerations other than the breadth of the impulsiveness construct per se, and those choices clearly did not exhaust the available possibilities.
The factor analysis yielded 3 factors, two of which reflect impulsive reactions to emotions, the third of which reflected impulsiveness that did not obviously have emotions as antecedents. One of the emotion-driven factors reflects mostly overt action, the other reflects mostly mental aspects of impulsivity. These 3 factors were subsequently used in a variety of studies that related them to genetic markers, to early adversity, and to measures of a range of tendencies toward psychopathology, both internalizing and externalizing (Auerbach, Stewart, & Johnson, 2017; Carver, Johnson, & Joormann, 2013; Carver et al., 2011; Carver, Johnson, & Kim, 2016; Carver, LeMoult, Johnson, & Joormann, 2014; Hooper & Carver, 2016; Johnson, Carver, & Joormann, 2013; Johnson, Carver, Mulé, & Joormann, 2013; Johnson, Tharp, Peckham, Carver, & Haase, 2017).
The accumulation of evidence thus far suggests that the two factors that assess reactions to emotion relate to a wide range of problems in behavior. In contrast, the factor that does not reflect emotional antecedents is less reliably related to problems. However, that also tends to make the latter a useful source of information regarding discriminant validity. Thus, we are making available these three indices for other research applications:
Feelings Trigger Action is the label chosen for the factor reflecting overt action in response to emotion. It loaded 3 scales, two of them slightly abbreviated versions of preexisting scales, and one scale created for the project. The preexisting scales were Urgency (from the UPPS, Whiteside & Lynam, 2001) and the Positive Urgency Measure (Cyders et al., 2007). The newly created scale is Reflexive Reactions to Feelings. These scales differ in the extent to which they refer to a particular emotional valence. In part for that reason, there are circumstances in which one might prefer to use one or another of the scales by itself. However, the three also share properties, which can make it useful to use them as an index. Below we provide instructions for creating that index.
Pervasive Influence of Feelings is the label chosen for the factor reflecting mostly cognitive responses to emotion. It loaded several scales: The highest loaders were Negative Generalization (Carver et al., 1988), Sadness Paralysis (created for the project), and Emotions Color Worldview (created for the project). In moving forward, we suggest that an index of those three scales represents the underlying construct well. Again, we recognize that there are circumstances in which one might prefer to use one or another of the scales by itself. Below we provide instructions for creating an index of the three scales.
Lack of Follow Through is the label chosen for the factor that does not obviously relate to emotions. Its strongest loaders were Lack of Perseverance (from the UPPS, Whiteside & Lynam, 2001), the Brief Self-Control Scale (scored in reverse, Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004), Laziness (from the BICS, Jackson et al, 2010), and Distractibility (newly created). The Laziness scale has a different response format than the other scales, and for that reason we have dropped it from further studies. The Brief Self-Control Scale has cross-loaded on the emotion-relevant factors in other analyses; for that reason we are inclined to regard it as more ambiguous with respect to its place in the 3-factor matrix and will not include it in this factor. We provide instructions below for creating an index of Lack of Perseverance and Distractibility.

Measure Items & Scoring

Assuming this set of response options is used throughout, all codings/reversals should be done so as to make larger numbers correspond to greater impulsivity.


    • 1 = I agree a LOT
    • 2 = I agree a LITTLE
    • 3 = I neither agree nor disagree
    • 4 = I disagree a LITTLE
    • 5 = I disagree a LOT
Instructions: Each item below is a statement that a person may either agree with or disagree with. For each item, indicate how much you agree with or disagree with what the item says. Please respond to all the items; do not leave any blank. Choose only one response to each statement. Please be as accurate and honest as you can be. Respond to each item as if it were the only item. That is, don’t worry about being “consistent” in your responses.

Feelings Trigger Action

Urgency (from Whiteside & Lynam, 2001)

    • 1. I have trouble controlling my impulses.
    • 2. I have trouble resisting my cravings (for food, cigarettes, etc.).
    • 3. I often get involved in things I later wish I could get out of.
    • 4. When I feel bad, I will often do things I later regret in order to make myself feel better now.
    • 5. Sometimes when I feel bad, I can’t seem to stop what I am doing even though it is making me feel worse.
    • 6. When I am upset I often act without thinking.
    • 7. When I feel rejected, I will often say things that I later regret.
    • 8. It is hard for me to resist acting on my feelings.
    • 9. I often make matters worse because I act without thinking when I am upset.
    • 10. In the heat of an argument, I will often say things that I later regret.
    • 11. I am always able to keep my feelings under control.
    • 12. Sometimes I do things on impulse that I later regret.
Reverse-code item 11; compute mean of item responses

Positive Urgency (from Cyders et al., 2007)

    • 1. Others are shocked or worried about the things I do when I am feeling very excited.
    • 2. When overjoyed, I feel like I can’t stop myself from going overboard.
    • 3. When I am really excited, I tend not to think of the consequences of my actions.
    • 4. I tend to act without thinking when I am really excited.
    • 5. When I am really happy, I often find myself in situations that I normally wouldn’t be comfortable with.
    • 6. When I am very happy, I feel like it is OK to give in to cravings or overindulge.
    • 7. I am surprised at the things I do while in a great mood.
Compute mean of item responses (no reversals)

Reflexive Reactions to Feelings (from Carver et al., 2011)

    • 1. I generally act on my feelings instantly
    • 2. My emotions turn into actions quickly
    • 3. When I want something, I take it fast
    • 4. When I feel a desire, I act on it immediately
    • 5. When I have an emotional reaction to something, I often act without thinking
    • 6. I react impulsively to my feelings
    • 7. When I feel filled with enthusiasm about something, I charge into motion
Compute mean of item responses (no reversals).

Feelings Trigger Action Factor Compute mean of 3 means

Pervasive Influence of Feelings

Generalization (from Carver et al., 1988)

    • 1. When even one thing goes wrong I begin to wonder if I can do well at anything at all.
    • 2. I hardly ever let unhappiness over one bad time influence my feelings about other parts of my life.
    • 3. If I notice one fault of mine, it makes me think about my other faults.
    • 4. A single failure can change me from feeling OK to seeing only the bad in myself.
Reverse-code item 2; compute mean of item responses

Sadness Paralysis (from Carver et al., 2011)

    • 1. When I feel sad, it paralyzes me.
    • 2. I respond to feeling sad by just stopping moving
Compute mean of item responses (no reversals)

Emotions Color Worldview  (from Carver et al., 2011)

    • 1. I am easily overwhelmed by feelings I have
    • 2. My feelings greatly affect how I see the world
    • 3. When I have emotional experiences, they strongly influence how I look at life
Compute mean of item responses (no reversals).

Pervasive Influence of Feelings Factor

Compute mean of 3 means

Lack of Follow Through

Perseverance computed as Low Perseverance (from Whiteside & Lynam, 2001)

    • 1. I generally like to see things through to the end.
    • 2. I tend to give up easily.
    • 3. Unfinished tasks really bother me.
    • 4. Once I get going on something I hate to stop.
    • 5. I concentrate easily.
    • 6. I finish what I start.
    • 7. I’m pretty good about pacing myself so as to get things done on time.
    • 8. I am a productive person who always gets the job done.
    • 9. Once I start a project, I almost always finish it.
    • 10. There are so many little jobs that need to be done that I sometimes just ignore them all.
Reverse-code items 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; compute mean of item responses

Distractibility (from Carver et al., 2011)

    • 1. I am easily distracted by stray thoughts
    • 2. It’s hard for me to do long projects because so many thoughts enter my mind.
    • 3. When I’m doing schoolwork, I tend to daydream
    • 4. My mind wanders when I’m working on something that’s tedious or difficult
    • 5. It’s easy for me to retain a clear focus on my work, even when I have other things on my mind
    • 6. It can be hard for me to carry out my intentions because I get sidetracked by my thoughts
    • 7. I often slip into a new train of thought when I’m in the middle of something
    • 8. It’s hard for me to keep my mind from wandering
    • 9. Thoughts come so thick and fast that I have trouble doing only one thing
Reverse-code item 5; compute mean of item responses.

Lack of Follow Through Factor

Compute mean of 2 means


Note: These instructions place responses to each scale on the same metric (the item-response scale). Essentially the same result would be obtained by summing responses for each scale and converting the sums to z scores, then averaging the z scores across factors.

German Translation available here



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