Short Test Accurately Identifies Impulse Control Problems

Impulse control problems are unusual difficulties controlling the momentary, impulsive urges that naturally arise in children and adults. The appearance of these problems is linked to a range of diagnosable health conditions, including substance use disorder, certain types of eating disorders, certain personality disorders and bipolar disorder. Doctors can identify impulse control issues with the help of a screening test called the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale. In a study scheduled for publication in September 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from three U.S. universities investigated the accuracy of a shorter form of the UPPS-P that requires much less time to administer to potentially affected individuals.

Impulse Control Problems

From childhood to adulthood, the average person experiences a fairly gradual increase in his or her ability to control impulsive involvement in potentially dangerous activities. However, such increases are not universal, and for one reason or another, some people never fully develop the ability to control their impulses or only do so at a relatively advanced age. Psychiatrists and psychologists sometimes use the term impulsivity to refer to the presence of an age-inappropriate inability to rein in impulsive urges. People affected by impulsivity have significantly elevated chances of failing to consider the consequences of their actions or otherwise exposing themselves to negative outcomes of their short-term-oriented choices. The UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale is just one of several tests used to measure impulsivity. Other tests include the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) and the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale.

The UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale

The UPPS-P was developed in the first decade of the 2000s as a way to measure five components of impulsive behavior: a desire to seek out highly stimulating experiences, an unusual sense of urgency that stems from “negative” emotional states, an unusual sense of urgency that stems from “positive” emotional states, a tendency to act without thinking and a tendency to fail to follow through on an undertaken task or activity. In its long form, the screening test contains 59 questions that an individual answers on his or her own. The answers to each of these questions have a point value ranging from one to four (i.e., from least affected to most affected). Interpreters of UPPS-P outcomes base their findings on the total point value for each of the five test subcategories, as well as on the total point value for the test as a whole. Doctors and other health professionals can administer the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavioral Scale to both adults and teenagers. The test comes in several language-specific versions. In the context of abuse and/or addiction, notable populations that can benefit from the use of this screening procedure include people affected by alcohol problems, people affected by drug or medication problems and people affected by gambling problems.

Is the Shortened Test Accurate?

In the study slated for publication in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Indiana University-Purdue University, Texas Tech University and the University of Mississippi tested the accuracy of a shortened version of the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale, called the SUPPS-P, with the help of 251 young adults enrolled in college. These adults were mostly male (59.3 percent) and mostly European-American (72 percent), with an average age of 21. The researchers concluded that they could administer the SUPPS-P test in less than half the time it takes to administer the longer UPPS-P test. When they examined the accuracy of the five subcategories of the shorter test, they concluded that these subcategories were both internally consistent and captured results that closely approximated the results gained through the use of the UPPS-P. In addition, they concluded that, just like the subcategories of the UPPS-P, the subcategories of the shorter SUPPS-P test help identify behaviors that create increased risks for affected individuals. Finally, the researchers concluded that, overall, the SUPPS-P test has a diagnostic value roughly equivalent to that of the UPPS-P test. The study’s authors note that there are some differences between the accuracy of the shortened SUPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale and the longer UPPS-P Impulsive Behavioral Scale. However, they concluded that these relatively minor differences are offset by the time saved by using the briefer form of the screening test. In all, they identify the SUPPS-P as a suitable substitute for the UPPS-P. It’s worth noting that the study results apply specifically to the English-language versions of both tests when administered to adults, not teenagers.

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