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Psychol Psychother. 2013 Dec;86(4):401-12. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8341.2012.02078.x. Epub 2012 Sep 27.

Impulsivity and risk for mania: towards greater specificity.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.



Impulsivity is elevated among people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and recent evidence suggests that impulsivity can predict onset among those at risk for the disorder. Impulsivity, though, is a broad construct.


The goal of this study was to examine whether some aspects of impulsivity are more correlated with risk for mania than others. We hypothesized that risk for mania would be related specifically to difficulties controlling impulsive responses to emotions.


Undergraduates (N = 257) completed a large battery of measures of emotion-relevant and non-emotional forms of impulsivity, along with a well-validated measure of risk for mania, the Hypomanic Personality Scale (HPS).


Analyses examined correlations of impulsivity scales with the HPS, and partial correlations controlling for lifetime tendencies towards depressive symptoms and current symptoms of alcohol abuse, both of which relate to impulsivity and often co-occur with mania. After controlling for these measures, risk for mania remained correlated with measures of impulsive responses to positive emotions, but not with difficulties in following through or with impulsivity in the context of general distress emotions.


Although impulsivity is a major concern among those at risk for mania and those diagnosed with mania, difficulties may be especially evident during positive affective states, and other forms of impulsivity may be less related to mania risk. Discussion focuses on limitations and future directions.


Impulsivity is correlated with risk for mania. Mania risk appears tied to tendencies towards impulsive action, particularly during positive affective states. Mania risk was not significantly correlated with other non-emotional forms of impulsivity. A better understanding of what aspects of impulsivity are problematic in bipolar disorder could guide more refined interventions.

© 2012 The British Psychological Society.

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