The relationship between impulsivity and aggression

At present we can observe a remarkable increase in problems related to aggression and violence in our society. Impulsivity is one of the reasons that seems to be highlighted as a key role in this problem.

In the theory proposed by ES Barrat, it is proposed that certain stimuli arouse or provoke feelings of anger that can lead to aggressive behavior. The process of socialization sometimes functions as a protective factor to inhibit this aggressive behavior, but sometimes it is precisely noted that impulsivity is often associated with certain deficits of these inhibiting mechanisms. The result is that people with high levels of impulsivity find it difficult to inhibit their aggressive behaviors when exposed to the emotion of anger.

In this case, María José Polo, psychologist collaborating with psychologists Málaga PsicoAbreu speaks to us about the relationship between impulsivity and aggressive behavior.

    The link between aggression and impulsivity

    Throughout our lives, we are continually exposed to having to make decisions on impulse; it is all part of our daily life. Sometimes these decisions can have positive consequences, but other times they can also lead to negative consequences that we may regret.

    According to Dickman’s theory, two types of impulsivity can be distinguished; functional impulsivity and dysfunctional impulsivity.

    Functional impulsivity would be defined as the tendency to make quick decisions when the situation involves personal advantage, it would become decision making with risk calculation included.

    However, dysfunctional impulsivity would be defined as the tendency to make quick and thoughtless decisions in situations where our strategy is not optimal, which usually leads to the person in question a number of negative consequences.

    Impulsivity can sometimes lead to aggressive behavior, including verbal aggression. Signs or characteristics of impulsive behavior are related to impatience, the tendency to seek risk and pleasure, the need for immediate reward, Difficulties in correctly analyzing the consequences of their own actions, difficulties in inhibiting behavior, problems with planning and difficulties with self-control.

    The various causes of occurrence are linked to biological, psychological and social variables. From a psychological perspective, there are different approaches that point to impulsive behavior resulting from observation and vicarious learning imitation of an aggressive pattern.

    Much research has found a direct relationship between the educational style of the family environment and the development in children (and later adults) of certain behaviors associated with family values. Exposure to aggressive role models could negatively influence a child’s personality, Generate in childhood and adulthood, self-esteem problems, fear of being in relationship with others, bad mood, etc.

    In addition to the family environment, we must recognize the importance of the social interaction that occurs in the school or professional context in the development of the personality of the individual. Unsuccessful or poor social relationships can deprive the child of situations in which to learn to frustrate properly, reaching adulthood to show angry and aggressive behaviors in the face of any conflict, however minor.

    verbal aggression

    Aggressive verbal behavior occurs when the words we use, the tone used, or the gestures we use to emphasize language create a feeling of intimidation, fear, guilt, or shame in the other person. Violent verbal behavior is characterized by threats, insults, criticisms, shouts, orders and value judgments.

    Therapeutic treatment of impulsivity and aggression

    Impulse control psychologists can provide resources for patients to help them improve self-esteem, assertiveness, social skills, self-control, and relaxation.

    With cognitive behavioral therapy, we can act on three different levels.


    The psychologist has to work with the person’s distorted thoughts, Help you identify and correct irrational ideas or dysfunctional beliefs. In addition, it will be easier to obtain new alternative responses to the resolution of future conflicts.


    At this point in therapy, they are working different techniques to try to inhibit aggressive behavior or at least decrease the frequency and intensity. One of the most widely used techniques is “time out,” where the person withdraws from the environment where aggressive behavior usually occurs. This behavior gives us a chance to observe changes (usually positive) not to make a “hot” decision.


    At this point in therapy, the patient is given tools to learn to identify emotional indicators that usually appear just before violent behavior. Recognizing these signs is usually used to anticipate and check that the aggressive behavior does not appear.

    This is why coping techniques such as relaxation techniques and concentration or mindfulness techniques can be very helpful. It will also be important to generate alternatives for more appropriate emotional expression; in this sense, knowledge and training in assertive communication can become a key component for people with problems with aggressive verbal behavior and impulsivity.

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