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Barratt Impulsiveness Scale

Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS) is an assessment used to measure impulsive behavior in individuals. This lesson will define impulsiveness and detail how it is assessed and measured using the scale.

What is Impulsiveness?

Have you ever done something without thinking about it too much? Have you ever made a decision in a quick moment without weighing the pros and cons? You probably have. This is what is often referred to as impulsiveness, or the tendency to act on a whim and react to situations without thinking about the consequences or effects of your actions.

In order to assess impulsiveness, the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale was developed in 1959. It was updated in 1995 by Patton et. al. and is now referred to as the BIS11. To measure impulsiveness, the BIS11 uses a questionnaire format composed of 30 items that describe common situations involved with impulsivity. Responses to the various situations will yield three second-order and six first-order factors of impulsiveness.

Administering and Scoring the Scale

The BIS11 is only 30 items. Therefore, it can be given as a simple pen and paper test, with the person taking the test filling in bubbles for her responses. Each item on the questionnaire uses a 1-4 scale. Marking a 1 indicates that a person rarely or never engages in the example behavior. Marking a 4 indicates that a person almost always or always engages in the example behavior.

For example, one item on the questionnaire is 'I squirm at plays or lectures'. The person taking the questionnaire will determine how often they engage in this behavior and mark the appropriate bubble on the scale. The numbers are then totalled to determine where a person falls on the scale.

Every item on the scale is categorized into two 'factors', second order and first order. For example, the item shown above ('I squirm at plays or lectures') falls into the second-order 'attentional' factor and first-order 'attention' factor. These factors will be discussed in depth in another section of the lesson.

Second-Order Factors

As mentioned, each item on the scale is associated with one of three second-order factors. These are broad categories of behaviors associated with impulsiveness. The second-order factors are then each broken into two separate first-order factors, which more specifically define the behaviors associated with impulsiveness.

The second-order factors are attentional, motor, and nonplanning. The attentional factor scores individuals based on their responses to items dealing with attending and focusing on different activities and things in their environment. For example, item 24 is 'I change hobbies', which identifies if a person can stick with a certain activity for a long period of time. Item 11 says 'I squirm at plays or lectures', identifying whether a person can sit and attend to something for long periods of time.

The motor second-order factor involves scenarios in which a person might act (and react) and move themselves physically. This can be on a small scale, such as interpersonal or intrapersonal situations, or on a larger scale. For example, several items that score based on this factor are 'I act on impulse', 'I am future oriented', or 'I change residences'.

Finally, the nonplanning factor presents situations in which individuals rate how likely they are to plan for the future or anticipate events and act accordingly. It also deals with situations in which a person would have to use problem solving skills. For example, 'I am a careful thinker' and 'I get easily bored when solving thought problems' are some questions that evaluate this factor.

First-Order Factors

As mentioned, the first-order factors are more specific than the second-order factors. Each second-order factor breaks down into two distinct first order categories. This allows the scale to more specifically identify behaviors that indicate impulsiveness in an individual. The first-order factors are attention, cognitive instability (from the attentional second-order factor), motor, perseverance (from the motor second-order factor), self-control, and cognitive complexity (from the nonplanning second-order factor).

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