Difference Between Compulsive and Impulsive

Compulsive vs Impulsive

Compulsive and impulsive, being two terms that describe two forms of behaviors, there is some difference between them. Being compulsive is when an individual has an irresistible urge to do something. Being impulsive is when an individual acts on his instinct. The key difference between these two forms of behavior is that while being compulsive includes thinking about the act of performing, in impulsive behavior, the individual simply acts without thought. Both concepts are dealt with in abnormal psychology in the context of psychological disorders. Through this article let us examine the difference between compulsive and impulsive.

What does Compulsive mean?

Being compulsive is when an individual having an irresistible urge to do something. When an individual is compulsive, he finds it difficult to refrain from engaging in a particular activity and enjoys repeating that action. Compulsive behaviors are a reaction to relieve the anxiety one feels. In abnormal psychology, psychologists speak of compulsive behavioral patterns, which result in compulsive disorders. Obsessive compulsive disorder or else OCD is one of the common compulsive disorders. In this disorder, the individual experiences anxiety, even though, there is no real threat to the individual. It is to relieve this anxiety that the individual repeatedly engages in a particular behavior.

For example, an individual who suffers from OCD may wash his hands again and again. The individual is constantly bothered by this that he is preoccupied with wanting to wash his hands repeatedly. This makes the individual wash his hands. But even after washing, the need to wash does not completely subside. The relief is momentary. Then again, the individual feels the need to wash his hands. The main characteristic of compulsive behavior or compulsive disorders is that they are premeditated. The individual thinks about the action for a long period. He decides when to engage in the acts and makes an effort to rationalize. Impulsive behavior is quite different to compulsive behavior.

Difference Between Compulsive and Impulsive

Washing hands again and again is being compulsive

What does Impulsive mean?

Being impulsive is acting on one’s instinct. In this case, the individual does not think through but acts anyway. For example, an individual has a sudden urge to harm another individual and acts on this without even thinking about the negative consequences that would follow his act. A key difference between impulsive behavior and compulsive behavior is that while compulsive behavior is premeditated, impulsive behavior is not premeditated.

In abnormal psychology, attention is paid to impulsive disorders as well. Impulsive behavior provides the individual with pleasure as it reduces the tension. Those who suffer from impulsive disorders do not think about the act but engages in it the moment it comes to them. According to psychologists, impulsive disorders are mostly linked to negative consequences such as illegal acts. Gambling, risky sexual behavior, drug use are some such examples. The inability to resist aggression, kleptomania, pyromania, trichotillomania (pulling one’s hair) are some impulsive disorders. This highlights that being compulsive and impulsive are two different behaviors.

Compulsive vs Impulsive

The inability to resist pulling one’s hair is impulsive behavior

What is the difference between Compulsive and Impulsive?

• Definitions of Compulsive and Impulsive:

• Being compulsive is when an individual has an irresistible urge to do something.

• Being impulsive is acting on one’s instinct.

• Pre-Meditation:

• When being compulsive the individual thinks through before acting.

• In impulsive behavior, the individual merely follows his instinct.

• Abnormal Psychology:

• Both are studied in abnormal psychology as compulsive and impulsive disorders.

• Rationalization:

• When being compulsive the individual rationalizes.

• However, when being impulsive, the individual does not rationalize.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Washing hands by Serenity (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Pulling one’s hair by 金娜 Kim S (CC BY-SA 2.0)