Just how annoying is this ‘irritability test’?

Psychologists examine irritability as a measure of mental health


I recently turned 55 and may therefore be regarded as a candidate for full membership of the UK’s infamous Grumpy Old Men club.

Actually I believe I am a reasonably even-tempered individual but, in line with most of the rest of the human race, there are certain things that ‘get my goat’ every time; like the use of archaic meaningless clichés such as ‘get my goat’.

Poor punctuation, bad grammar and unsolicited telephone sales calls can each rile me into audible sighs of despair and fits of head shaking, even if there is no other witness to my outbursts.

In much the same vein I have been known to shout at the telly despite the fact that no one else might be watching with me and, yes, I am fully aware that the TV is not yet a fully interactive medium of communication.

I simply despair at the stubborn stupidity of some of the people I see and read about daily, by which of course I mean anyone who doesn’t share my own opinions or my particular world view.

Does this make me in any way socially abnormal or mentally impaired?

Quite possibly, according to a team of psychologists at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

They have developed a set of five questions from an original list of 63 used to measure the irritability of over a thousand test subjects.

Researcher Susan Holtzman explains their reasoning; “people are rarely just irritable – irritability often goes with a lot of other negative emotions”, she said, going on to identify those emotions as stress, anxiety and depression.

The new test, called the Brief Irritability Test (which they would like to be known as ‘BITe’, an irritatingly incorrect acronym).

I’m on board with the principles so far and there is no doubt the aim is laudable; to be able to identify the symptoms of mental illness at an early stage before they manifest in some more severe way.

Then I looked at the five questions which test subjects are supposed to answer and grade from one to six where ‘one’ equates to ‘never’ and ‘six’ means ‘always’. (In full disclosure I found the use of an even number for the scale to be irritating since there is no exact mid-point, the spot into which I would place myself in most circumstances).

I had been expecting some sort of sophisticated psychometry, some nuanced questions about lifestyle or behaviour that would allow for the subtle but identifiable betrayal of symptoms of irrationality or social withdrawal.

Instead I found myself completing a set of questions posed as statements that could have been extracted straight from the pages of a teen magazine;


1. I have been grumpy

2. I have been feeling like I might snap

3. Other people have been getting on my nerves

4. Things have been bothering me more than they normally do

5. I have been feeling irritable


I answered these as honestly as I could; that is to say I assessed myself as grumpy and irritable for some of the time (I plumped for a fairly harsh score of ‘four’ on each) and, since I entirely subscribe to Jean Paul Sartre’s view that “hell is other people”, I chose ‘six’ for that particular question.

The concept of “snapping” gave me pause and I could have done with a more fulsome definition.

Would it encompass my almost involuntary eye-rolling and head shaking or was it meant to be more at the taking a machine gun to a shopping mall end of the spectrum?

I decided on a ‘two’ for that and for the question asking if things had been more bothersome than usual. They haven’t, but one never likes to say ‘never’.

All of which resulted in a verdict of ‘normal’ which was kind of disappointing in its own way and made feel irritated at the time I’d wasted agonising over the answers.

You can try the test for yourself here.



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