Impulse vs. Compulsion: What's the Difference?
Impulse is a sudden urge to do something without premeditation. Compulsion is a strong, often irresistible urge to perform an act, usually driven by psychological factors.
Impulse and compulsion are both related to behavioral psychology, but they are not synonymous. Impulse is often a sudden, spontaneous urge to do something. These urges can be momentary and may not have a profound psychological basis. Compulsion, on the other hand, is a more enduring and often irresistible urge to perform a specific act, frequently rooted in a psychological condition or emotional state.
When one acts on impulse, the action is often short-lived and might be a reaction to immediate stimuli. For example, grabbing a candy bar at the checkout counter is an impulsive act. Compulsion, however, generally involves a level of obsession or anxiety that drives the action. For instance, compulsively washing hands due to fear of germs reflects deeper psychological triggers.
Grammatically, both impulse and compulsion function as nouns. While impulse is often used as a standalone term ("an impulse to run"), compulsion is frequently seen with qualifying words like "obsessive" or "irresistible" to specify its intensity or psychological roots. Impulse may pair with lighter adjectives like "sudden" or "brief."
In summary, while both impulse and compulsion describe urges that lead to actions, impulse is usually a fleeting urge without a deep-rooted psychological basis. Compulsion, in contrast, is often an overpowering need that has a psychological or emotional underpinning, compelling the individual to act.
Generally less intense
Generally more intense
Standalone or with light adjectives
Often paired with intense or psychological adjectives
Repeated or obsessive acts
Impulse and Compulsion Definitions
A sudden urge to do something.
On impulse, she bought a lottery ticket.
A strong, often irresistible urge to perform an action.
Her compulsion to clean made her vacuum daily.
Spontaneous desire without deliberation.
The impulse to dance took over him.
An emotional force driving repeated behavior.
His compulsion to check the door was exhausting.
A momentary driving force.
His impulse to help was immediate.
An obsessive need rooted in anxiety or fear.
The compulsion to wash hands stemmed from germophobia.
A quick emotional response.
He sent the message on an angry impulse.
A psychological imperative to act in a specific manner.
The compulsion to be perfect led to burnout.
An impelling force; an impetus.
An overwhelming desire dictating behavior.
A compulsion to confess made him reveal the secret.
The motion produced by such a force.
The act of compelling.
A sudden wish or urge that prompts an unpremeditated act or feeling; an abrupt inclination
Had an impulse to run away.
An impulse of regret that made me hesitate.
Bought a hat on impulse.
The state of being compelled.
A motivating force or tendency
"Respect for the liberty of others is not a natural impulse in most men" (Bertrand Russell).
An irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation
"He felt an animal compulsion to flee the hotel and the city" (Paul Theroux).
(Electronics) A surge of electrical power in one direction.
(Psychiatry) An act or ritual that a person feels compelled to perform repeatedly, often to reduce the distress caused by an obsession.
(Physics) The product obtained by multiplying the average value of a force by the time during which it acts. The impulse equals the change in momentum produced by the force in this time interval.
An irrational need or irresistible urge to perform some action, often despite negative consequences.
During the basketball game, I had a sudden compulsion to have a smoke.
(Physiology) The electrochemical transmission of a signal along a nerve fiber that produces an excitatory or inhibitory response at a target tissue, such as a muscle or another nerve.
The use of authority, influence, or other power to force (compel) a person or persons to act.
Characterized by impulsiveness or acting on impulse
An impulse shopper.
The lawful use of violence (i.e. by the administration).
A thrust; a push; a sudden force that impels.
The act of compelling, or the state of being compelled; the act of driving or urging by force or by physical or moral constraint; subjection to force.
If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion.
With what compulsion and laborious flightWe sunk thus low.
A wish or urge, particularly a sudden one prompting action.
The impulse to learn drove me to study night and day.
When I saw the new book, I couldn't resist the impulse to browse through it.
An urge to do or say something that might be better left undone or unsaid
(physics) The integral of force over time.
The total impulse from the impact will depend on the kinetic energy of the projectile.
An irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions against your will
(transitive) To impel; to incite.
Using force to cause something;
Though pressed into rugby under compulsion I began to enjoy the game
They didn`t have to use coercion
The act of impelling, or driving onward with sudden force; impulsion; especially, force so communicated as to produced motion suddenly, or immediately.
All spontaneous animal motion is performed by mechanical impulse.
The effect of an impelling force; motion produced by a sudden or momentary force.
The action of a force during a very small interval of time; the effect of such action; as, the impulse of a sudden blow upon a hard elastic body.
A mental force which simply and directly urges to action; hasty inclination; sudden motive; momentary or transient influence of appetite or passion; propension; incitement; as, a man of good impulses; passion often gives a violent impulse to the will; to buy something on impulse.
These were my natural impulses for the undertaking.
To impel; to incite.
An instinctive motive;
Profound religious impulses
A sudden desire;
He bought it on an impulse
The electrical discharge that travels along a nerve fiber;
They demonstrated the transmission of impulses from the cortex to the hypothalamus
(electronics) a sharp transient wave in the normal electrical state (or a series of such transients);
The pulsations seemed to be coming from a star
The act of applying force suddenly;
The impulse knocked him over
An impelling force or strength;
The car's momentum carried it off the road
A brief motive without deeper thought.
The impulse to laugh was too strong to resist.
What is a Compulsion?
Compulsion is a strong, often irresistible urge rooted in psychological factors.
How do Impulse and Compulsion differ?
Impulse is usually momentary and less intense, while compulsion is enduring and psychologically rooted.
Can you control a Compulsion?
It's harder to control due to its psychological nature.
Which term is more psychologically intense?
Compulsion is generally more psychologically intense than impulse.
Is Impulse always negative?
No, impulses can be neutral or even positive, like an impulse to compliment someone.
What is an Impulse?
Impulse is a sudden, spontaneous urge to perform an action.
What's the grammatical difference between the two?
Impulse is often standalone, while compulsion frequently pairs with intense adjectives.
Is Compulsion always rooted in psychological issues?
Generally, yes; it often has an emotional or psychological basis.
Is Impulse short-lived?
Generally, yes; it's often a momentary urge.
What triggers an Impulse?
Immediate stimuli or a sudden desire usually trigger impulses.
Can you control an Impulse?
Usually, as impulses are often fleeting and less overpowering.
Can Impulse become a Compulsion?
It's possible if a repeated impulse is influenced by psychological factors.
What triggers a Compulsion?
Anxiety, fear, or emotional states often trigger compulsions.
Is Compulsion long-lasting?
It can be enduring, driven by deep-rooted psychological factors.
Is Compulsion related to mental health?
Often, as it may indicate underlying emotional or psychological issues.
Written bySawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited bySumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.