Gray’s BAS/BIS Theory


  • Proposes that personality is based on the interaction of two basic systems in the brain:

1. Behavioral Activation System (BAS): The accelerator (“hit the gas”)

– Impulsivity, novelty seeking, sensitivity to rewards and motivation to seek rewards.

–Attraction to a person or a cookie and a desire to approach the person or cookie, especially a “new” one?

  • High BAS = Lots of positive affect (PA); Low BAS = Less PA
  • High BAS = Impulsive; Low BAS = Reserved and Careful
  • High BAS = Extraversion; Low BAS = Introversion

BAS = Left Frontal Lobe:

  • Active while experiencing positive emotion (happiness).

2. Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS): “Hitting the brakes”. Sensitivity to potential punishment and motivation to avoid punishment.

–Fear of rejection by someone you fancy or fear of a snake and the motivation to avoid these things comes from this system.

-Avoidance of people, places, and situations that have the perception of causing potential pain?

  • High BIS = negative emotions (fear, anxiety)
  • High BIS = inhibits movement toward goals
  • High BIS = High Neuroticism; Low BIS = Low Neuroticism

But……Low BIS also = High Psychoticism

BIS = Right Frontal Lobe:

  • Active while experiencing negative emotion (fear, anxiety).
  • Active when presented with an incentive.

How does this effect behavior and coping methods? Can it be the underlying mental processing that fuels addictive behavior, especially when deeper obsessive and compulsive patterns emerge?

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