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The BIS/BAS/Fight Flight Freeze System

The BIS/BAS/Fight Flight Freeze System

1. The Gray BIS/BAS/FFS System

Mammalian responses to stress are not uniform.
According to the fight/flight stress model (by Connor (1932) and later Gray, who combined it with the BIS/BAS model → RST of 1990, revised 2000), there are 2 to 3 main groups of stress responses:

The BAS type reacts to stress with attack.
The FFFS type reacts to stress by fleeing or playing dead.
According to Gray’s (2000) revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST), the BIS system no longer responds to stimuli from the outside, but only becomes active when the BIS and FFFS systems have both been activated. The BIS system is responsible for the trade-off between BAS and FFFS.

The original Fight/Flight system was extended by the Freeze component to FFFS.

Benefits of different stress phenotypes

These reaction models are very deeply rooted. The survival probability of a “Stone Age” group of Homo sapiens has always been higher if the group had members of both types. Modern industrial psychology knows that groups with different characters are more successful than homogeneous groups

Examples

Quite banally: if all members of a group were night owls or early risers - how well would the primeval group have been protected from enemies if all group members slept at the same time?
Likewise, what is the likelihood that at least individual group members would have survived if an entirely new challenge arose in which either deliberate or spontaneous action was the optimal survival strategy?
In other words, it would run counter to the basic idea of evolution that groups with homogeneous character structure survive better than others.

The different stress response phenotypes are also evident in other creatures, e.g., guppies.1
Subsequently, it seems conclusive that the expression of the single individual as fight- or flight-type is a purely random variable that ensured that a population had enough members of the two types.
If we consider “freeze” as a stress response phenotype in its own right (which could plausibly explain the phenomenon of sluggish thinking), there would be three stress phenotypes.

Put another way: Groups in which a single type had become genetically dominant were less likely to survive, so we are likely to be the descendants of those who passed on this trait with a higher random distribution.

Similar: Farmer/Hunter hypothesis

In the Hunter/Farmer hypothesis picture, ADHD-HI/ADHD-C sufferers are phenotypically viewed as Hunter (hunters) and ADHD-I subtype sufferers are phenotypically viewed as Farmer (sedentary), with the ADHD symptoms of each subtype taking an (unhealthy) extreme form of the two poles. Representation as extreme poles is conclusive.
Sometimes, however, an idealization or strangely justified “superiority” of ADHD is derived from the Hunter/Farmer hypothesis - we explicitly do not share this view. ADHD sufferers may be different from non-affected people, which may have disadvantages in some constellations and advantages in others - but a superiority cannot be derived from this. If one realizes that the standards of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, i.e. what is “sick” and what is “healthy”, are always defined by the majority and that in the case of a particularity the majority is by definition not affected by the particularity, this relativizes the valuation of a designation considerably anyway.

We have observed that professional/entrepreneurial self-employment is the domain of Type-A personality and ADHD-HI/ADHD-C. Type-C personalities and people of the ADHD-I subtype are, according to our subjective impression, less or less successful as self-employed persons. This is especially true for SCT sufferers, who, according to our experience, are rather advised not to become self-employed.
Self-employment necessarily requires the ability to make quick decisions. While hasty or even ill-considered impulsive decisions may also be disadvantageous for self-employment, decision-making difficulties seem to be an even greater stumbling block.

Conversely, according to our subjective impression, activities that require great empathy and patience, such as therapeutic professions, seem to be a strength of the more introverted types.

Literature reference

Szczesny-Friedmann calls BIS types “pigeons” and BAS types “hawks” and describes the consequences in a technically accurate and generally understandable way.2

Introversion and extraversion

Introversion and extraversion are, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator approximately equally frequent. They have primarily genetic and biological, less environmental or educational causes.3 Introversion and extraversion are understood as two poles of one measure.
One explanation could be that stimulus-sensitive people need fewer new stimuli and less stimulus-sensitive people need more new stimuli in order to reach the optimal level of arousal for them in each case. According to this, extraversion would be associated with low stimulus sensitivity and introversion with high stimulus sensitivity.
The reality is likely to be more complex; see Dunn’s sensitivity model.4

1.1. Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST)

Whether BIS and BAS are independent of each other, i.e., BIS and BAS can both be low or differentially high (so Gray), or whether BIS and BAS are the poles of a unitary entity within which they correlate with each other depending on the state (Corr), i.e., are rigidly connected rather like a playground seesaw, was a matter of dispute. The question, meanwhile, is likely to be obsolete in the case of the newer RST, because in the latter the BIS and FFFS must necessarily be active simultaneously in order to offer the BIS alternative courses of action. More recent voices consistently regard the systems as independent of each other.56

1.1.1. The modified RST (Gray, 2000)

In 2000, Gray modified the reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST) he postulated, primarily with respect to the task of the BIS.

According to the modified RST, the BAS and FFFS are activated simultaneously and independently by new stimuli. The BAS responds to reward stimuli, the FFFS to all Forms of punishment stimuli. In contrast, the BIS is no longer activated by stimuli themselves, but only by a simultaneous activation of BAS and FFFS. The BIS is then activated by conflicts of BAS and FFFS and is used to weigh which system should be given preference for action. At the same time, the BIS activates attention to the environment to provide cues for decision making.78

According to this, impulsivity can be described as high extraversion with high emotional lability (neuroticism), resulting in high sensitivity to reward (highly responsive BAS).

1.1.2. The original RST (Gray, 1990)

The “old” RST, according to which the BAS system should respond to reward stimuli, the BIS to punishment stimuli and non-reward, and the FFS to existentially threatening stimuli, with these three systems acting independently, could not conclusively explain quite a few responses.

2. Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS)

2.1. BIS according to the old RST

The Behavioural Inhibition System correlates with the personality traits9

  • Anxiety
    • As a weakened form of neuroticism
    • Trait Sensitivity of Punishment (SP) Marker
  • Introversion (as the antithesis of BAS Extraversion)
  • Fear

The BIS maps receptivity to punishment, non-reward, and unknown stimuli (conditioned aversive stimuli).

2.1.1. Activation of the BIS

The BIS is activated by

  • Conditioned stimuli for
    • Punishment
    • Frustrating non-reward
    • New, unexpected stimuli

These trigger behavioral inhibition via the BIS.

The BIS is noradrenergic-cholinergic-serotonergic controlled10 and may be impaired by anxiolytics.11

2.1.2. Effects of the BIS

People with high BIS report more negative experiences in a diary study and experience them more negatively than comparison groups.12
People with high BIS evaluate negative social experiences more negatively. They invest more to avoid them and experience negative experiences more intensely.13, page 227, with further evidence))

People with high BIS set negative goals more often. Example in the social domain: “I don’t want to be alone” instead of “I want to have a partner.”13, page 227, with further evidence))

Nevertheless, the choice of (here: social) goals is a better predictor of (here: social) success than the measure of sensitivity to punishment or reward (BIS and BAS.)13, page 227, with further evidence))

2.2. The BIS according to the new RST

See above under 1.1.1.

2.3. BIS and neurophysiological correlates

Higher BIS correlates with greater right prefrontal activation, shows lower natural killer (NK) cell activity, and responds more strongly to negative emotional stimuli.14

Neurologically, Gray locates the BIS in the septo-hippocampal system (SHS),15 consisting of

  • Hippocampus (limbic system)15
  • Septal nuclei15
  • Connections to the cingulate cortex, part of the frontomedial PFC15
  • Connections to the PFC15
  • Amygdala16

An activated BIS increases non-specific arousal, which leads to a focus of attention on currently relevant events.17
High anxiety and increased punishment sensitivity are particularly characterized by high synchronization of hippocampus and amygdala in the theta EEG frequency band.18 With a reduction of anxiety by new conditioning, the synchronization of hippocampus and amygdala decreases at the same time.1920

Depression and anxiety disorders are associated with sensitized BIS.21 A sensitized BIS is associated with increased sensitivity to punishment and an enlarged hippocampus and amygdala.2218

Anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing drugs) decrease the excitability of the amygdala.23

However, the BIS system can also be impaired by anxiolytics.24

The BIS is controlled by the neurotransmitters

controlled, with norepinephrine and serotonin associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity leading to cortisol release from the adrenal gland.26 In healthy children, activation of the BIS in response to punishment is associated with increased cortisol levels following difficult situations.27

A summary of the neurological correlates of BIS is shown by Chiossi.28

3. Behavioural Activation System (BAS)

3.1. BAS according to old as well as new RST

According to Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST), Drive, Reward Responsiveness, Fun Seeking29 correlate with the level of activation of the BAS to a given stimulus.
The BAS responds to conditioned stimuli for reward and non-punishment, resulting in approach behavior and general behavioral activation.3031

The Behavioural Activation System correlates with the personality trait Impulsivity as a weakened form of Extraversion and maps sensitivity to reward stimuli.3233

When the BAS is activated, this leads to a feeling of reward similar to that which occurs after the use of cocaine, amphetamines, heroin or alcohol.34 These rewards are all linked to the dopaminergic system.

3.2. Effects of the BAS

People with a high BAS are more likely to report positive experiences than a comparison group in a diary study.12
People with high BAS set positive goals more often. Example in the social domain: “I want to meet new people” instead of “I don’t want to be alone.”13, page 227, with further evidence))
Nevertheless, as written earlier, the choice of (here: social) goals is a better predictor of (here: social) success than the measure of sensitivity to punishment or reward (BIS and BAS).13, page 227, with further evidence))

3.3. Neurophysiological correlates of the BAS system

BAS is dopaminergically controlled primarily by the meso-cortical pathway.25

The BAS is neurologically controlled by processes that occur in the brain areas of

  • Basal Ganglia
    • Pallidum
      • Dorsal
      • Ventral
    • Striatum
      • Dorsal
      • Ventral
  • Dopaminergic neural pathways

lie35

That BAS is dopaminergically controlled primarily through the meso-cortical pathway25 explains the vulnerability of the reward system in ADHD due to the dopaminergic dysfunction known in ADHD.

A jump-start of the BAS is reflected in an increase in heart rate3637 and skin conductance elevation, as well as changes in the startle reflex.38

Children with the ADHD-HI subtype and with social disorders were found to have decreased activity of BIS and increased activity of BAS.3926 Under the new RST, it is likely that FFFS, rather than BIS, is decreased.
The response to recurrent reward stimuli was enhanced, even if these had been replaced by aversive stimuli in the meantime 40

4. Fight-Flight-Freeze-System (FFFS) according to new RST

The FFFS correlates with panic and fear (threat), unconditioned aversive stimuli. Primary negative reinforcers are accompanied by negative emotions such as horror, panic, and anger and trigger flight (Flight), freeze (Freeze), or fight (Fight).41
The FFFS is anchored in the vegetative nervous system.

The therapy method of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is recognized for ADHD, is vegetatively effective.

The fight-flight-freeze mechanism (which Gray first described) is controlled in the periaqueductal gray of the brain (central cavernous gray). The control mechanism is unknown so far.42


  1. Guppys zeigen unterschiedliche Reaktionen auf Stress

  2. Szczesny-Friedmann (2012): Taube oder Falke: Warum wir sind, wie wir sind – und was wir daran ändern können, Rowolth

  3. http://www.psychomeda.de/lexikon/extraversion.html

  4. http://paei.wikidot.com/dunn-winnie-dunn-s-model-of-sensory-processing

  5. Für eine Unabhängigkeit: Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 22

  6. Gegen eine Unabhängigkeit: Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 106

  7. Chiossi (2013): Neuronale Grundlagen der Persönlichkeit nach Gray: Ein Vergleich von Ego-Shooter-Spielern und -Nicht-Spielern, Dissertation, Seite 12

  8. Strobel, Beauducel, Debener, Brocke (2001): Eine deutschsprachige Version des BIS/BAS-Fragebogens von Carver und White, Zeitschrift für Differentielle und Diagnostische Psychologie, September 2001 Vol. 22, No. 3, 216-227, doi:10.1024//0170-1789.22.3.216

  9. Müller, Smits, Claes, de Zwaan (2013): Faktorenstruktur der deutschsprachigen Version der BIS/BAS-Skalen in einer Bevölkerungsstichprobe – Factor Structure of the German Version of the BIS/BAS Scales in a Population-Based Sample; Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2013; 81(2): 75-80; DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1330482

  10. Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 23

  11. Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 20

  12. Gable, Reis, Elliot (2000): Behavioral activation and inhibition in everyday life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Jun;78(6):1135-49.

  13. Gable, in Forgas, Fitness (2008): Social Relationships: Cognitive, Affective, and Motivational Processes, unter Verweis auf Gable, Reis, Elliot (2000), Gable (2006) und Elliot, Gable, Mapes (2006)

  14. Davidson (2000): Affective style, psychopathology, and resilience: brain mechanisms and plasticity. Am Psychol. 2000 Nov;55(11):1196-214.

  15. Gray, McNaughton (2000): The neuropsychology of anxiety. An enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. 2dn ed. Oxford University Press, 2000.

  16. Holzschneider, Mulert (2011): Neuroimaging in anxiety disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci, 2011. 13(4): p. 453-61

  17. Corominas, Ramos-Quiroga, Ferrer, Saez-Francas, Palomar, Bosch, Casas (2012): Cortisol responses in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a possible marker of inhibition deficits, ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord (2012) 4:63–75. DOI 10.1007/s12402-012-0075-59

  18. Hahn, Dresler, Plichta, Ehlis, Ernst, Markulin, Polak, Blaimer, Deckert, Lesch, Jakob, Fallgatter (2010):, Functional amygdala-hippocampus connectivity during anticipation of aversive events is associated with Gray’s trait “sensitivity to punishment”. Biol Psychiatry, 2010. 68(5): p. 459-64.

  19. Lesting, Narayanan, Kluge, Sangha, Seidenbecher, Pape (2011): Patterns of coupled theta activity in amygdala-hippocampalprefrontal cortical circuits during fear extinction. PLoS One, 2011. 6(6): p. e21714.

  20. Lesting, Geiger, Narayanan, Pape, Seidenbecher (2011): Impaired extinction of fear and maintained amygdalahippocampal theta synchrony in a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsia, 2011. 52(2): p. 337-46.

  21. Corr (2008): The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality; Online ISBN: 9780511819384, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511819384

  22. Barrós-Loscertales, Meseguer, Sanjuán, Belloch, Parcet, Torrubia, Avila (2006): Behavioral Inhibition System activity is associated with increased amygdala and hippocampal gray matter volume: A voxel-based morphometry study. Neuroimage. 2006 Nov 15;33(3):1011-5.

  23. Davis (1992): The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Anxiety, Annual Review of Neuroscience, Vol. 15:353-375; https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.ne.15.030192.002033

  24. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 20

  25. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 23

  26. Quay (1997): Inhibition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, February 1997, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 7–13

  27. Blair, Peters, Granger (2004): Physiological and neuropsychological correlates of approach/withdrawal tendencies in preschool: further examination of the behavioral inhibition system/behavioral activation system scales for young children. Dev Psychobiol 45:113–124

  28. Chiossi (2013): Neuronale Grundlagen der Persönlichkeit nach Gray: Ein Vergleich von Ego-Shooter-Spielern und -Nicht-Spielern, Dissertation, Seite 13

  29. Müller, Smits, Claes, de Zwaan (2013): Faktorenstruktur der deutschsprachigen Version der BIS/BAS-Skalen in einer Bevölkerungsstichprobe – Factor Structure of the German Version of the BIS/BAS Scales in a Population-Based Sample; Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2013; 81(2): 75-80; DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1330482; die Autoren gehen allerdings nur auf die alte RST und nicht auf die von Gray 2000 überarbeitete RST ein

  30. Gray (1988): The psychology of fear and stress. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press

  31. Gray (1990): Brain systems that mediate both emotion and cognition. Cognition Emotion 1990; 4: 269-288

  32. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement_sensitivity_theory

  33. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 18

  34. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 19, mit Hinweis auf Gray 1990

  35. Leger (2009): Emotionale Reaktionen bei Kindern mit Störung des Sozialverhaltens im Vergleich zu Erwachsenen mit antisozialem Verhalten; Dissertation. Seite 19; Die Autorin bezieht sich nur auf die alte RST, nicht auf die 2000 von Gray überarbeitete RST.

  36. Fowles (1980): The three arousal model: implications of gray’s two-factor learning theory for heart rate, electrodermal activity, and psychopathy. Psychophysiology. 1980 Mar;17(2):87-104.

  37. Fowles (1988): Psychophysiology and Psychopathology: A Motivational Approach. Psychophysiology, 25: 373–391. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.1988.tb01873.x

  38. Lang, Bradley, Cuthbert (1992): A motivational analysis of emotion: Reflex-cortex connections. Psychological Science 3:44-49

  39. Quay (1988): Attention deficit disorder and the behavioural inhibition system: the relevance of the neuropsychological theory of Jeffrey A. Gray. In: Bloomingdale, Sergeant (eds.): Attention deficit disorders: criteria, cognition, and intervention. Pergamon, New York pp 117-126, zitiert nach Leger (2009): Emotionale Reaktionen bei Kindern mit Störung des Sozialverhaltens im Vergleich zu Erwachsenen mit antisozialem Verhalten; Dissertation. Seite 20; Die Autorin scheint sich nur auf die alte RST, nicht auf die 2000 von Gray überarbeitete RST zu beziehen.

  40. Matthys, van Goozen, de Vries, Cohen-Kettenis, van Engeland (1998): The Dominance of Behavioural Activation over Behavioural Inhibition in Conduct Disordered Boys with or without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, Volume 39, Issue 5 July 1998 , pp. 643-651

  41. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 21

  42. Zimmer (2011): Studentenskript zur Vorlesung NEUROPSYCHOLOGIE WS 2011/12 Uni Köln