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What Is the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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The Barratt impulsiveness scale is a 30-question self-administered questionnaire that helps assess if and to what degree a person may have an impulse-control disorder or pathological impulsivity. Each of the 30 questions is scored out of four points. The questions concern how someone thinks and behaves without reference to a specific point in time. The questionnaire consists of three subscales: motor, non-planning, and cognitive impulsivity. Ernest S. Barratt, the author of the Barratt impulsiveness scale, suggests that a score of 75 or higher likely indicates an impulse-control disorder, while those with pathological impulsivity often score between 70 and 75 points.

First developed in the 1950s, the Barratt impulsiveness scale has since been revised at least 11 times. Barratt, the author, was an internationally renowned researcher in personality and impulsive aggression who passed away in 2005. His scale was primarily developed to measure impulsivity independent of anxiety as an aid to researchers.

When taking the questionnaire, the respondent is asked to rank how often he or she engages in particular thoughts or behaviors. A response of almost always or always is given four points, while an answer of rarely or never is worth one point. Certain items marked by an asterisk are reverse scored. Once all the questions have been answered, the total score is calculated. Normative data are available for many sample populations ranging from female substance abuse patients to undergraduate males.

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Within the Barratt impulsiveness scale are three subscales measuring specific types of impulsivity. Certain items on the questionnaire are keyed to each of these subscales. This allows the respondent or researcher to calculate a total score as well as subscale scores.

The impulsive non-planning subscale measures a person’s lack of consideration for the future as well as present orientation. In other words, the focus of this subscale is the respondent’s attention to detail. Items keyed to this subscale include the statements “I plan tasks carefully” and “I plan trips well ahead of time.”

An additional subscale focuses on motor impulsivity or the tendency to act on the spur of the moment without thinking. Respondents with this tendency will score high on items like “I find it hard to sit still for long periods of time” and “I do things without thinking.” “I buy things on impulse” is another Barratt impulsiveness scale item keyed to this subscale.

The final subscale measures attentional impulsivity or the ability to focus on the task at hand. This subscale is concerned with the respondent’s future-oriented thinking and coping abilities. Items keyed to this subscale include “I have racing thoughts” and “I like to think about complex problems.”

Individuals with impulse-control disorders manifest an inability to control themselves in a variety of situations. Pyromania, kleptomania, and pathological gambling are three prominent examples. An individual without proper impulse control may also experience episodes of violent and aggressive outbursts resulting in physical and property damage. Treatment depends on how the impulse-control disorder manifests.

The Barratt impulsiveness scale is widely available and frequently used by mental health professionals and researchers. As a self-reported assessment, anyone can take the questionnaire at any time. It can be purchased commercially and is also available online with the scoring template.

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