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Many of the social problems I am studying at present (drug addiction, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, suicide, ADD, obesity) are attributed to impulsiveness. But there are good and bad sides to being impulsive. The New York Times discusses research distinguishing between self-destructive impulsiveness and spontaneity that is an intellectually healthy break from routine. A taste for danger is not enough to produce ruinous impulsivity.

This research, in The Journal of Psychiatric Research, investigated 351 healthy adults and 70 others with impulse-related disorders like antisocial and borderline personality disorders. The participants took tests to measure inhibition, risk attitudes and the propensity to plan. An appetite for risk in the healthy was associated with having a good education – risk seekers scored highly for curiosity and openness to new experiences. Those with personality disorders however combined sensation-seeking with extreme lack of deliberation leading to chronic trouble or mental illness.

A key differentiating factor had to do with how people apply the brakes when impulsive behaviour steers them in a harmful direction. People can binge, gamble or try hard drugs and get away with it if have a native cunning when it comes to risk. They are then prepared for danger and poised for retreat. Such self-directed types have clear goals and are resourceful in pursuing them. Those who get upended by their impulses, by contrast, trust first impressions absolutely and don’t take evasive action to avoid problems. So you can be efficiently impulsive provided you are prepared for trouble. Yes.

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